Wenger laments naive Arsenal after late goal
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted his side had been naive to throw away victory after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser in their Champions League Group H clash at AZ Alkmaar.
The Gunners appeared to be on their way to a third straight European win and all but into the knockout stages following Cesc Fabregas' 35th-minute strike. However, the Dutch side, managed by Ronald Koeman, refused to give up and snatched a point at the death when David Mendes da Silva blasted in from close range after a ball into the box had been flicked on by substitute Graziano Pelle.
"You know that in the last five minutes of a Champions League match, anything can happen,'' said Wenger. "They have thrown everything forward and felt they could only score on a set-piece, and that is what happened. It is frustrating because we looked closer to scoring a second than conceding, but credit to them, they did fight well and went until the last minute.''
Wenger, who watched his side recover from a nightmare opening five minutes of their last away European tie, added: "We are still learning. You do not need to give a free-kick away on an offside in the last minute. We were caught a bit naively on the second ball, that can happen sometimes on the first one that you lose the header, but on the second one, their player was completely free to score.''
Wenger added: "We were largely in control, but as long as you are not two goals in front, that is the problem. You can score with just one kick from the goalkeeper into your box. That is just football.''
Arsenal could count themselves somewhat unfortunate not to have been awarded a late penalty for what appeared to be a trip on substitute Carlos Vela. "To me, it looked like a penalty, but I would have to watch it again,'' said Wenger. "The referee was even closer than I was.''
Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen admitted the result "felt like a defeat''. "We were in control, there were no big chances for AZ, but in the last minute they scored,'' said the Belgium international. "It feels like a defeat. But when you are 1-0 in front you are not comfortable - it is always risky.''
Wenger, though, maintained his side were still in the driving seat at the top of Group H, a point clear of Olympiacos and five ahead of AZ. "We are still in a strong position,'' said Wenger. "We have three games left, two at home, and I believe to win one game will qualify us.
"What I want is for us to continue to play like we do, focus to play better. In football, you have to produce the maximum result with your game, and tonight that did not happen.''
AZ boss Ronald Koeman praised the way his side continued to battle to the end. "We made some mistakes in the first half, like when we lost possession for the goal,'' said the former Holland international, whose team have now moved off the bottom of Group H with two points from their three games.
"Arsenal were controlling in the second half, but we kept our spirit. I made some changes to try to win the game. We could put some long, high balls in for Pelle, then fight for the second ball. We never lost the spirit. I am very happy about the result and the performance of the team.''
Given events off the pitch this week with owner Dirk Scheringa declared bankrupt, and the team tonight playing without shirt sponsors, Koeman praised the way his men stayed focused. "The situation of the club is difficult,'' he said.
"You read more things about what is happening outside of football in the last few days. However, the team concentrated well and had a good spirit from the beginning.''