Welbeck brings Wenger solace amid Arsenal protests
LONDON: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger faced supporter protests before Danny Welbeck’s goal secured a 1-0 home victory over Norwich City on Saturday that moved his side up to third place.
Welbeck scored three minutes after appearing as a 56th-minute substitute to move Arsenal eight points clear of fifth place in the Premier League and strengthen their bid to qualify for the Champions League.
Defeat at the Emirates Stadium left Norwich second from bottom, two points from safety, but with a game in hand on fourth-bottom Newcastle United.
Victory brought relief to Wenger, whose decision to introduce Welbeck changed the game, and his players, who were booed off following a scoreless first half that was marked by a display of dissent from some home fans.
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The protest occurred in the 12th minute, signifying the 12 years since the club last won the league, but provoked a mixed reaction, and then a more muted response when it was repeated 12 minutes from time.
A number of posters were held up around the ground declaring that it was “TIME FOR A CHANGE”, but the display was met with boos from other fans and chants of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger!”
It confirmed that the club’s supporters are divided in their views about the manager’s future, but they are unanimous in sharing a sense of frustration over their club’s failure to challenge for the title.
That feeling was underlined by club captain Mikel Arteta, who admitted in his match programme notes that Arsenal had passed up their best chance in five years to claim the title.
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Some of the reasons for that failure were evident during a disjointed first-half display when Wenger’s side struggled to find any momentum against a Norwich team who created the better chances despite enjoying only limited possession.
Wenger acknowledged before the match that the only way to win round his critics is by delivering results on the pitch, although he did mount a spirited defence of his record in the decade since the club moved to the Emirates, pointing out the financial constraints he was forced to work under.
He also illustrated his loyalty to the club by stating that he had committed himself to the club to satisfy a demand for stability from the banks that funded the development of the new stadium.
But the Frenchman needs to deliver results now and until the introduction of Welbeck, it appeared as though an uncomfortable afternoon was likely to get even worse for him.
Arsenal were forced to rely on the reactions of goalkeeper Petr Cech to deny Nathan Redmond as early as the sixth minute.
And while the visitors were forced to defend in numbers for long periods during the first half, they were rarely troubled by a one-dimensional home attack.
Alexis Sanchez offered occasional moments of threat, but the real danger came at the other end, with Cech again called on to save from Redmond, who also fired wide with another dangerous effort.
The boos that greeted the half-time whistle provided yet another reminder of the discontent among the home supporters.
There were more signs of dissent at Wenger’s decision to withdraw Alex Iwobi and not Olivier Giroud, when Welbeck was introduced 11 minutes after the restart.
His decision was proved right, however, when Welbeck and Giroud combined for the winner, with the France international heading down Hector Bellerin’s cross for his team-mate to lash home.
Giroud immediately cupped his ear to the crowd, suggesting that he, too, felt vindicated.
Norwich remained positive and it took an excellent saving tackle from Gabriel — on for the injured Per Mertesacker — to prevent Dieumerci Mbokani connecting with Redmond’s low cross.
Arsenal, though, hung on and the risk of missing out on the Champions League receded, while Alex Neil’s Norwich have work to do if they are to avoid relegation.
Wenger confident of fans’ backing after Norwich win
Arsene Wenger believes he retains the support of the majority for Arsenal supporters following a day of protest at the Emirates Stadium.
A pre-arranged demonstration saw a number of fans hold up signs saying “time for change” during the 12th minute of Arsenal’s narrow, 1-0 home victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City on Saturday.
The timing of the protest was reference to the fact that it is 12 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League title — too long a gap in the eyes of many of the north London club’s supporters, for all the Gunners have consistently finished in the top four in the intervening period.
But the cries criticising the Arsenal manager were drowned out by expressions of support, with other fans chanting “there’s only one Arsene Wenger”.
“It was a strange atmosphere, but we have to live with that and overall the fans, some were protesting yes, but the big majority didn’t and the big majority was behind the team and they showed they appreciate what I have done until now,” said Wenger, Arsenal’s manager since September 1996.
“I heard them (the chants of support) but I was focused on the game, my job is to win football games so once the game starts I focus on that. You can do both. I acknowledged the crowd.”
The 66-year-old Frenchman continued: “I am a professional that has given 20 years to this club and have given my best for this club and have to accept the judgement of people.
“The only thing I don’t doubt is my sincere commitment to this club. I am sorry that I cannot keep 100 percent happy but maybe that is because we have been remarkably consistent.
“This season is a bit special as well,” he added of a campaign where Leicester, once 5,000/1 rank outsiders, are on the verge of being crowned champions.
“We were in a position for a long time where our fans believed we could win the league. We didn’t and that is why it is more disappointed love than aggression and we have to accept that.”
Sanchez went straight down the tunnel after being replaced late on and Wenger said: “My job is to make decisions and to make people 100 percent happy there as well is very difficult.”
Victory moved Arsenal eight points clear of fifth position and strengthened their bid to secure a Champions League place.
“It was a much-wanted win, and needed and difficult,” said Wenger. “We played against a team very well-organised and didn’t find a good pace in our game.
“But we were serious and organised and in the end we got the win.”
Defeat left Norwich second bottom and in a three-way fight with Sunderland and Newcastle United to avoid going down with already-relegated Aston Villa.
“The difference is just one game,” said Norwich manager Alex Neil. “If Sunderland lose or draw and we win, we will go above them. But we know we need to pick up points between now and the end of the season.
“The last thing you can do down in the dogfight is feel sorry for yourselves.
“If you start worrying about the maths and what other people are doing, then it’ll drive you crazy. We have two games coming up and they will be key for us.
“We’ve got Manchester United and then Watford. We have to take maximum points from that.”