Wenger surprised at 'gamble' to play Cologne match amid security issues
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger thought Arsenal's Europa League game against Cologne would be called off because of the fan trouble outside the Emirates stadium on Thursday, but said it was the right decision to carry on with the match and praised his team's supporters for how they dealt with a uniquely challenging situation.
Arsenal won 3-1 after a second-half comeback in a game that was postponed one hour because thousands of Cologne fans were preventing Arsenal supporters to getting to the turnstiles.
Security officials kept the stadium closed for more than an hour before letting fans in, with Cologne supporters then occupying most of the Clock End -- despite having only been allocated 3,000 tickets for the game.
Wenger said his team waited patiently in the dressing room during the delay, while he was involved in discussions on when to play the game if it had to be called off.
"What was difficult for me was I had all kinds of plans to think about. Do we play tomorrow, at what time do we want to play? Do we play next week?" Wenger said at his postmatch news conference. "It was all kinds of speculations that we had to analyse and see how we can deal with the situation.
"At some stage I thought they will not play the game. Because I can't see the police taking any risk. We live in a society of 100 percent security, and I thought they will never take a gamble to play this game when I saw the images around the stadium.
"But I must say, our supporters dealt well with the situation around the stadium as well."
Four arrests were made as the Metropolitan Police said that additional officers had been deployed to the area following the unrest.
Wenger said Cologne supporters had been "very clever'' to enter the stadium undetected, with both sides likely to face UEFA charges in the coming days.
"They were very clever,'' he added. "I don't know how they managed to infiltrate our fans and get everywhere but they did that very well. I don't know if they went through Arsenal membership, on the internet... they did very well.''
Meanwhile, Cologne coach Peter Stoger refused to even discuss the situation at his postmatch news conference.
"Nothing about the fans," Stoger said when asked about the delay. "I don't know what happened at the moment, so I don't want to talk about that. Please."
Arsenal trailed to an early goal from Jhon Cordoba, who punished David Ospina's poor clearance with a long-distance lob over the goalkeeper.
But second-half substitute Sead Kolasinac levelled with a thumping volley and Alexis Sanchez then curled in a superb striker from the edge of the area to give Arsenal the lead. Hector Bellerin sealed the win by converting a rebound after Theo Walcott's shot was saved.
Arsenal had struggled mightily in the first half, but Wenger's half-time changes paid off as he reverted to a back four when Kolasinac came on.
"In the second half I believe our team was better balanced and better equipped going forward," Wenger said. "Kolasinac, he gave us a lot going forward. But as well he pushed Sanchez more forward.
"Sanchez played very deep in the first half, and when he had more support on the flank from Kolasinac he became more dangerous."
It was Sanchez's first goal of the season after a drawn-out transfer saga this summer raised questions about his commitment to the club. But Wenger said his goal showed that he can still be a decisive factor in games.
"In the second half he came alive. He's still fighting to come back to his best physically. But Sanchez is Sanchez, he is an exceptional football player," Wenger said. "He can always create something special."
Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification last season, but goalscorer Bellerin hinted they will hope to emulate Manchester United by winning the Europa League to secure a return to the top table.
"It's a new competition for us and we had to set the tone,'' he said. "We think we're one of the best teams in the competition and we have to show that on the pitch.''
The win will provide an important lift ahead of a difficult trip to Chelsea on Sunday.
And Bellerin continued: "We already had confidence from [Saturday's win over Bournemouth] and this win, and coming back from losing, gives us a boost.
"We'll train hard these two days coming and we'll be ready for Sunday.''
Information from Press Association Sport was used in this story.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.