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Wenger keeps faith after stalemate

17 April 2013, 10:20

London - Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal remain on course to qualify for the Champions League even though the Gunners' 0-0 draw against Everton left them facing a nerve-wracking end to the season.

Wenger's side would have moved four points clear of fifth placed Tottenham with a win over Everton on Tuesday, but instead they had to settle for a frustrating point after struggling to cope with the visitors' physical approach at the Emirates Stadium.

The race to finish in the Premier League's top four looks certain to go down to the wire as third placed Arsenal are just two points ahead of both Chelsea, who have two games in hand, and Tottenham. who have played one game less than their north London rivals.

Failure to qualify for the lucrative Champions League would be a massive blow for the Gunners, but Arsenal manager Wenger is convinced his team have the mental strength to cope with the high-pressure situation.

"We should have won the game but it keeps us still in a strong positon in the race for the top four," Wenger said.

"We are on a very strong run with a fantastic spirit so you do not want to complain too much about what didn't go for us.

"We dropped two points but if we win our coming games we will get there. The other teams have games in hand but they play each other.

"My belief was always strong and still is. I'm confident we will do it."

Wenger's belief in Arsenal's ability to cope with the stresses and strains of the run-in hasn't been dented despite Everton knocking them out of their stride with an overtly aggressive game plan.

The Frenchman felt Everton sent out to ruffle his team, but he claimed their tactics would have been scuppered if midfielder Darron Gibson had been sent off for a series of crunching challenges in the first half.

Gibson was booked after crunching into Jack Wilshere but escaped a second yellow card following a crude barge into Theo Walcott.

"Yes I think Gibson should have been sent off. He should have had a yellow card even before his first booking," Wenger said.

"It was a game of huge intensity, they decided to make it physical to disturb our game.

"I don't blame Everton for that. To say we needed protecting is a big word, we just want the referee to make the right decisions.

"I don't think the referee dealt well with the intimidating physical challenges in the first half."

Wenger refused to be drawn on reports that England star Wilshere had become embroiled in a tunnel bust-up with Everton's Kevin Mirallas at halftime, adding: "I don't know about that but I will find out. The dressing room was quiet after."

While Wenger is confident of his side's top-four ambitions, Everton manager David Moyes was willing to admit his team's hopes of gatecrashing the Champions League party were starting to fade.

Everton are four points behind Chelsea and Moyes said: "I'm pleased with the performance, I don't think you are ever disappointed to take a point at the Emirates.

"I'm not sure what a point does for us. Are we really going to overhaul Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea?

"The players knew tonight what was at stake, it was a big chance to go and do it.

"I would take the Europa League. I think that's realistic but to be in with a shout of the Champions League at this stage of the season is good for Everton."

Moyes also insisted there was nothing wrong with Everton's no-holds-barred approach.

"We weren't going to let Arsenal stroke the ball around with 500 passes," he said.

"We were committed and made some tackles. Believe it or not that's allowed in football. Some teams from up north do that kind of thing."

Asked about the tunnel row between Mirallas and Wilshere, Moyes made a pointed reference to Wenger as he added: "I didn't see it, and I know someone who says that quite a lot!"

- Sapa/AFP


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