Arsenal still in Premier League title fight, insists Arsene Wenger after loss
Arsene Wenger defended his team's performance after their 3-2 loss to Manchester United on Sunday, saying they showed both spirit and commitment and insisted they are still in the title fight.
Arsenal came in as favourites to earn a first Premier League victory at Old Trafford in a decade but went 2-0 down after two quick first-half goals and couldn't recover against a makeshift United team.
While former Arsenal striker and Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry were among those questioning Arsenal's desire after this performance, Wenger refrained from criticising his team.
"Our spirit, our commitment was 100 percent there. But it's difficult to win away from home when you concede three goals," Wenger told Sky Sports. "Apart from that I could not question out desire or commitment at all."
Wenger gave Danny Welbeck his first Premier League start of the season and he responded by giving the Gunners hope when he pulled back a goal for 2-1 late in the first half. However, the decision to start Theo Walcott up front instead of Olivier Giroud backfired as the England forward was largely anonymous before being substituted for the Frenchman with 30 minutes left.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Marcus Rashford scored United's first two goals in his Premier League debut, as Louis van Gaal was forced to play several youngsters in place of a slew of injured starters. But Wenger dismissed the notion that this was a United team that Arsenal should have beaten.
"The players are young maybe, some of them. But honestly, in midfield they were playing Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mata, and at the back with Carrick, Blind, De Gea," Wenger said. "Yes they had young strikers, but they have quality. It's not the name that counts, it's the performance. And their strikers put a good performance in."
The loss means Arsenal are now five points behind leader Leicester and three behind North London rival Tottenham, ahead of a trip to White Hart Lane next weekend. Tottenham rallied for a 2-1 win over Swansea on Sunday, with the Swans up next for Arsenal on Wednesday.
And Henry is among those who are doubting Arsenal's title credentials after Sunday's defeat, saying "that was not the performance of a team that wants to be champion."
However, Wenger said there was no reason to feel too disheartened.
"No, why? We are in the fight, where we can show that we have great character and a great mental response on Wednesday night, and that's what you want to do," Wenger said. "We lost three points but we have to show that we are up for a fight and give absolutely everything in our next game. Things can change quickly, but only if you keep going and keep believing."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him @MattiasKaren.