Manager Arsene Wenger
hopes Arsenal's glorious failure in the Champions League on
Tuesday will inspire them to finish the season on a high and
earn themselves a place back in the competition next season.
The Gunners went down with all guns blazing losing their
Round of 16 tie 4-3 on aggregate to AC Milan after a superb
fightback ended in a 3-0 win in the second leg at Emirates Stadium which took them frustratingly close to saving the tie.
Arsenal were attempting to become the first side in European
history to overturn a 4-0 first leg deficit and qualify, but
although they fell just short after goals from Laurent
Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and a penalty from Robin van Persie,
Wenger was not totally downbeat.
"We are disappointed because we touched qualification, we
had the chances, and although we didnt do it, we were very
close," he told reporters afterwards.
"But the players gave a faultless performance with a
fantastic spirit and you can only congratulate the whole team."
Looking ahead to the next two months, and asked if they
could finish high enough to qualify for next season's
competition, he said: "We are on a good run in the league and it
will be difficult - I don't deny that.
"Tonight was a big disappointment for the players. But the
team has grown well together, and hopefully from here we can
finish the season strongly because there is no room for
disappointment at the moment in the league.
"Every point is a battle until the end of the season and
that is what is in front of us.
"But our target is possible because we are four points
behind Tottenham, though we have to go step by step because we
have another big game on Monday night against Newcastle and we
take it game by game."
Arsenal, who have come from behind to beat their arch-rivals
Tottenham 5-2 and Liverpool 2-1 in their last two league matches
and have won their last four in the Premier League, are fourth,
four points behind Spurs with 11 matches to go.
Although they are now set for a seventh straight season
without a trophy, their form has certainly improved.
With Spurs showing signs of vulnerability and with
fifth-placed Chelsea in transition following the exit of manager
Andre Villas-Boas, the odds of Arsenal booking a 15th successive
Champions League appearance look promising.
"We need to win our games and look at the results of teams
like Tottenham to catch them up, but for us, its clear - we have
to win our games," Wenger said.
If Arsenal play like they did in the first half on Tuesday,
they should have no problem winning most of those remaining
They never let Milan settle, went for the jugular from the
start with the likes of Rosicky and Alex Song closing opponents
down in midfield and teenage prospect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
superb in a central midfield role.
Wenger was full of praise for the 18-year-old, who was
playing in only his fourth Champions League game. If the
immediate future looks encouraging, the long-term one looks even
brighter if he develops as expected.
"For him, he has never played at the top level in midfield,
he started straight away in a decisive Champions League game and
he did well, he tired early in the second half after his injury.
"But when he got the ball in the first half, you always
thought something could happen. There is some class there. He
can play in every position across the pitch from the middle to
wide. He showed he has the class to be there."
Wenger also praised Rosicky for his excellent performance,
saying: "He was outstanding tonight and in the last few games he
has been one of our most influential players.
"He doesn't always get the credit he deserves, but I am
giving it to him now."
One weakness he did admit to though, was the lack of real
depth on his bench, populated by youngsters like Ozzi Ozyakup,
Ignasi Miquel and Carl Jenkinson.
When he attempted to boost his side's options in the second
half he had to call on the largely ineffectual Marouane Chamakh
and the largely untried Ju-young Park.
"We had no real options on the bench," Wenger said, "so that
was a regret."
It is also a clear indication to him, if any was needed,
about where improvements are needed to his squad for next
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