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23 February 2024

Wenger defiant as 'joke' Arsenal condemned by pundits

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, celebrates after he sores the opening goal of the game during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP)

By Agencies

Arsene Wenger remained defiant on Sunday after Arsenal's 3-2 capitulation at Manchester United prompted much criticism, with one distinguished former international suggesting their performance bordered on "a joke".

As the London club's ability to make the most of their best chance in years to win the Premier League was called into question, manager Wenger was adamant his team had the character to bounce back in the next two games.

After being outplayed at home by Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek and then losing ground to second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with their defeat at United, former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, now a trenchant TV analyst, led the shrill chorus of criticism.

"Arsenal today bordered on being a joke," the former Scotland hardman said on Sky Sports. "It was tailor-made for a proper team to come here and really do a number on a very under-strength Man United. And they didn't.

"I'll stand on my head if they prove me wrong and go and win this league because that was totally unacceptable."

Teenage sensation Marcus Rashford took his tally to four goals in two games as Manchester United compromised Arsenal's Premier League title bid with a rousing 3-2 victory on Sunday.

The 18-year-old, who had scored twice on his debut against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League on Thursday, also set up a goal for Ander Herrera as Louis van Gaal's side closed to within three points of the Champions League places.

Arsenal, who scored through Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil, were left five points below leaders Leicester City, while Tottenham Hotspur moved three points above them by coming from behind to beat Swansea City 2-1.

Having failed to glean a point against United's kids, Wenger's men must now beat Swansea City on Wednesday to restore confidence before a crucial derby at Spurs, their neighbours and fiercest rivals for more than 100 years, on Saturday.

"We lost three points but we have to show we are up for the fight and give absolutely everything in our next game," said Wenger. "Things can change quickly only if you keep going and keep believing.

"Why is it difficult to stay positive? We can show on Wednesday night that we have great character and mental response and that's what we want to do.

"I couldn't question our commitment or desire at all."

Others did, however. Not just Souness but also Thierry Henry, the Frenchman who has a claim on being Arsenal's greatest player.

"That wasn't the performance of a team that wants to be champions," Henry said on Sky.

"They didn't reassure me about anything."