ARSENE Wenger left Sunderland in a happy frame of mind at the weekend despite losing Jack Wilshere to what he expects to be only short-term injury.
Certainly, the exciting England midfielder is expected to be available for Arsenal’s FA Cup game against Blackburn this Saturday and Champions League first leg with Bayern Munich – contests upon which so much of their season depends.
And he believes the weekend victory at Sunderland, thanks to a goal from Santi Cazorla (pictured), which kept his side in touch with those rivals chasing a top-four spot in the Premier League will be a perfect confidence booster – not just because Arsenal showed their usual silky skills at the Stadium of Light, but also a resoluteness and resilience when reduced to 10 men for the last half-hour.
By then, his side could have been out of sight had they made the most of the chances created when they were dominant.
But having failed to do so, their manager was delighted that they withstood intense, late pressure from Martin O’Neill’s men.
“Defensively, we were very strong,” he enthused in the wake of a second clean sheet in a row.
“We have deserved some criticism for our defence in some games and those games didn’t help confidence, but this game will help our confidence a lot ahead of a couple of big cup games.
“I think our keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, was great and maybe he was one of those who suffered a little bit from lack of confidence in some of our games.
“But people forget he’s still very young, he’s still only 22, and games like this one are good for him.
“It wasn’t just him, though. Bacary Sagna has also been criticised, but I thought he was outstanding, especially when you consider he was switched from full-back to centre-half just minutes before the game because of a late strain for Laurent Koscielny.”
One of the statistics being bandied about at the moment points out that Arsenal would be top of the Premier League if games were only judged on second-half performances.
So Wenger would have been pleased that his side went into the break 1-0 up. And he wasn’t in the mood to complain either that his team had not scored far more goals.
“We lacked efficiency in our finishing,” agreed the Frenchman.
“We didn’t finish what we created, but that’s the way it can be – sometimes we can score five, sometimes seven, sometimes none.
“And this was one of those games where we would have scored plenty if we could have been that bit more efficient.
“But, overall, we have to be pleased to get this result against a Sunderland side which will always test you.”