ARSENE Wenger was uncharacteristically sanguine in the wake of Saturday’s goalless draw with Sunderland – a game he felt his side could and should have won.
Normally, Le Grump would have accused Sunderland almost of cheating in refusing to play an open and expansive game at the Emirates.
But this was a more relaxed Wenger, perhaps desperate for no one to jump to the conclusion, in the wake of 37-goal Robin van Persie’s departure, that the Gunners are already a busted flush.
So Sunderland drew, Wenger shrugged. So Arsenal didn’t score, he acknowledged. Some you win, some you don’t.
He had a point when it came to his plea not to judge a season by an opening game.
One match means nothing – as those who were writing the Gunners’ obituary last season should remember.
“The worst Arsenal team I’ve ever seen,” said pundit Roy Keane on the last occasion these two teams met and the Wearsiders dumped them out of the FA Cup. But Arsenal went on to finish third in the Premier League, giving the lie to the Irishman’s claims.
And Wenger was quick to push for calm in the wake of a less than flying start to the season for his team on Saturday.
“We put the effort in and our basic fitness was all right, but we lacked sharpness and fluency,” he said.
“We had chances in the final third and were dangerous, but we couldn’t convert them and on top of that Sunderland played the way they always do against us – very defensively.
“If we’d been playing away from home on the first day, I think we would have had a better chance of winning.
“When you’re not sharp enough to make a difference early in the game, it can become difficult and Sunderland defended well.”
He couldn’t resist adding “Sunderland defended the whole game” as if that was somehow unsporting.
But he accepted: “The formula didn’t work with three strikers up front.
“We were not well balanced and did not create enough because we did not have a strong enough midfield.
“We realised that we needed to be more creative in the final third, but we weren’t able to do that – we were maybe one creative player short.
“Of course not beating Sunderland was a missed opportunity for us because we had so much possession.
“But we had moments where we could have passed the ball more quickly and more accurately but didn’t and, for that, we paid the price.”
Wenger has reached the point where he is prepared to accept players leaving the club who want to go – even talisman van Persie and, minutes before the post-match Press conference, Alex Song.
That’s because he is also building again, confident that players like new signings Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud – and Spain star Santi Cazorla especially – will rise to the challenge.
“I was pleased with Cazorla because he played a full 90 minutes midweek but still created many chances,” he said. “He could be one of the buys of the season.
“It is frustrating that players move on, but we have learned to live with it.
“People might say us not winning was down to van Persie not being here – that we missed his 37 goals a season – but you can never check that, and we have to live with that.
“He won us many games, but we also lost games when he was playing – it is something that you just cannot quantify.
“And, besides, Podolski and Giroud scored 40 goals between them last season – so, theoretically, we are three goals better off!”