Wenger: My players have responded well
Arsene Wenger insisted he always knew Arsenal had what it took to triumph over adversity after watching them come from behind to seal their place in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
The Gunners' character has often been questioned in recent times but they showed it in spades last night to beat Udinese 2-1 and seal a 3-1 aggregate success in their play-off round tie. Wenger's miserable fortnight threatened to plumb new depths when Arsenal trailed at half-time to Antonio Di Natale's header. But goals from Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott and a superb penalty save from Wojciech Szczesny turned the game on its head.
The Gunners' fightback was all the more impressive considering the recent departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and the raft of injuries and suspensions they have suffered this season.
Wenger said: "We have been a little bit under pressure and for us not to play the Champions League and with the players who left, that pressure would've increased, understandably. Since the beginning of the season, I feel a very strong, determined attitude within the team."
Admitting his relief, the Frenchman added: "We responded in a very positive way, even being down 1-0. I'm very happy because we kept our composure. We kept dominating, playing the football we want to play."
A defiant Wenger also hit back at the doom-mongers who have predicted another trophyless season for his club. The recent lack of silverware has seen the Frenchman forced to answer questions about his future and more would have followed had Arsenal failed to reach the Champions League for the first time in 14 seasons.
"We live in a society where everybody has an opinion on everything," Wenger said. "I'm like somebody who flies a plane for 30 years and I have to accept that somebody can come into the cockpit and thinks he can fly the plane better than I do. But that's part of our job and we have to accept that.
"I just would like to say that the club is in overall a very strong position because, for 15 years on the trot, we play in the Champions League. We have a new stadium and a fantastic training ground, a very good financial situation and a very strong team. Sometimes you have to take a distance a little bit with the 'catastrophism' that looks to be needed."
Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin was left to rue Di Natale's penalty miss, which happened while it was still 1-1. "If we would've scored the penalty, there would've been 20 minutes of fire on the pitch," he said. "But after that, we stopped playing."
Guidolin was hoping the defeat would not derail his side's entire season, as it might have done their opponents. He said: "It's three months we have been thinking about this dream so, psychologically, we could be affected."