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10 Mar 2008 11:00
Arsene Wenger backed Arsenal to stay on course for the Premier League title after struggling Wigan held the league leaders to a 0-0 draw at the JJB Stadium on Sunday.
Having eliminated holders AC Milan from the Champions League in midweek, Arsenal failed to negotiate an awful playing surface at Wigan that is surely the worst in England’s top division.
And Wenger admitted that the pitch—lacking grass in many areas and bumpy and dry throughout—proved crucial as Steve Bruce’s team earned the draw that boosts their fight against relegation.
It was Arsenal’s third successive drawn league match and they are only two points ahead of reigning champions United, who have a game in hand.
Wenger said: “I don’t want to take anything away from Wigan’s performance, but frankly, the pitch was a disaster. It is disrespectful for the fans who come and pay money to watch football on that.
“We prepared ourselves mentally to play on a difficult pitch and we still created the chances to win the game.
“The only excuse is that they have a rugby team that also plays on the pitch, unless the groundsman is sick.
I said recently that the pitch at Old Trafford wasn’t the best, but compared with this, it is fantastic.”
Back-to-back draws against Birmingham and Aston Villa had taken the steam out of Arsenal’s surge to the title and Wenger conceded that the race between themselves, Manchester United and Chelsea was becoming more and more intense.
He said: “The race is now tighter than ever because we have dropped two more points, but we will remain calm and focused because this was a difficult game against a team fighting to avoid relegation.
“It is an anti-climax when you go from the San Siro to Wigan, but we prepared ourselves for that.
“But the longer we went without scoring the first goal, the more that Wigan believed they could get something. We simply lacked spark after the win in the San Siro.”
Wigan moved three points clear of the relegation zone with the point and they face a potentially crucial clash against struggling neighbours Bolton at the JJB next Sunday.
And after arriving with the club in the bottom three in November, Wigan boss Bruce insisted his team is now showing signs of escaping trouble.
He said: “When we played Bolton three months ago, we were well beaten and I thought we would be cut adrift. But the players have done terrifically well and this point shows that we are well on course.
“The players have shown great energy and commitment to get themselves in the position they are now in, but the pitch doesn’t help us, even though it was a leveller against Arsenal.
“It’s impossible for our players to play on that with the ball bobbling around their knees, but there is nothing that we can do until the summer, even though our groundsman is working fifteen hours a day to sort it out.”
Wigan’s England striker Emile Heskey faces a scan on Monday to assess the extent of a foot injury that forced him to limp out of the game early in the second half.
Bruce said: “It’s the same foot that Emile suffered a broken metatarsal on earlier this season, so we will see how it is. But our physio is hopeful that it isn’t the same injury again.”—Sapa-AFP
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