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ARZEN WWENGER; No tantrums, no broken teacups ... Gunners boss stays calm and trusts players to go top today; JOHN CROSS hears Arsene Wenger explain away Saints' first three goals.. and the doubts over Arsenal's title bid.



Martina 19, Long 55, 90 Fonte 69


ARSENE WENGER managed a laugh when asked about a plaster on his finger.

"Did you cut it throwing a teacup?" the questioner had asked.

But that's not Wenger's style - he rarely loses his temper in the dressing room even after the most humiliating of defeats.

And the thrashing at Southampton was definitely in that category.

It also raised all the old question marks about whether Arsenal's squad is strong enough and if his players have the mental strength to maintain a title challenge.

Wenger (right) insists his Gunners will provide the answers against Bournemouth today when victory will send them top, because Leicester host Manchester City 24 hours later.

It's hard to believe that Arsenal could be title contenders given their performance at St Mary's.

They looked nervous, secondbest throughout, and showed signs of fatigue, which is something they must put right within the space of 48 hours.

And do they have the depth of squad and mental strength?

"Of course, of course" said Wenger who seemed more philosophical than angry.

"If I don't acknowledge that Southampton were good then you will say I'm not fair. I said they were better than us, well done... now let's focus on the next game. At this stage of the season I don't give too much importance to going top. What is more important for me is that we show quality in our games.

"We were not at our usual level and that's more disappointing than not overtaking Leicester at the top. Overall, we are strong enough to deal with that, to show against Bournemouth that we can get over this kind of result.

"It's always difficult to have the same level in every game but we were a bit unlucky as well. The first three goals...I don't see why they should have stood.

"Southampton were sharper physically than us. That can happen even if it's not fatigue. Maybe we could play again tomorrow and we could win and be sharper.

"They were a very physical team who stopped us from playing and the wind and conditions were very difficult for us as well. Instead of putting the ball on the ground, we lifted the ball too much and lost too many balls."

Wenger claimed there was an offside in the build-up to Cuco Martina's wonder strike for the opener. He said there was a foul before Shane Long scored the second, and the third should have been a goal-kick rather than a corner from which Jose Fonte headed home.

No complaints about the fourth from Long, though!

That is one hell of an excuse from Wenger and rather embarrassing too - few other managers would try to justify a four-goal thrashing.

Maybe he was trying to hide from accusations that this was typical Arsenal defeat - a huge result against Manchester City followed by an inexplicable thrashing.

Per Mertesacker had a stinker, Hector Bellerin's dip in form was highlighted again, Mathieu Flamini struggled to cover the hard yards, and even Mesut Ozil went missing.

They will make changes because they have to. Flamini, having been an PS80,000-aweek reserve for a couple of years, cannot suddenly play all the games in the festive programme and will get a break, with Calum Chambers set to play in midfield against Bournemouth today.

It must be a worry for Wenger because Arsenal have very little in reserve. His squad has been stretched to the limit by injuries to Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. All big players.

And when Arsenal needed to change it at Southampton, there was very little from the bench.

Wenger added: "I believe in this team because they have been winning and 80 per cent of the players have not been overloaded, they haven't played many games.

"If you look at the number of games that Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell have played since the start of the season.... even Giroud was out for a long while, Walcott as well.

"All these players are not overloaded with games and it's not like we have played 25 games."

SOUTHAMPTON: Stekelenburg 6, Martina 7, Van Dijk 7, Fonte 7, Bertrand 7, Wanyama 9, Davis 8, Ward-Prowse 7 (Tadic 71, 7), Clasie 6 (Romeu 67, 6), Mane 8 (Juanmi 81), Long 8

ARSENAL: Cech 6, Bellerin 4, Mertesacker 4, Koscielny 5, Monreal 6, Flamini 4 (Chambers 73, 5), Ramsey 5, Campbell 4 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 64, 5), Ozil 4, Walcott 5 (Iwobi 71, 5), Giroud 4

REF: Jon Moss ATT: 31,669



FEEL THE FOURCE Beaten and battered Arsenal stars Ramsey and Giroud are left suitably downcast as (from top) Martina, Long, Fonte and Long again score for Saints in a 4-0 drubbing
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 28, 2015

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