Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has faced criticism from fans for developing young soccer talent instead of buying ready-made stars. Yesterday, his players backed up his case in the 1-0 win over Manchester United.
Arsenal threw open the title race as it dented leader United’s bid for a record 19th English championship. The Gunners secured the victory with the youngest group of players to start a Premier League match this season. The goal came from 20-year- old Aaron Ramsey, whose inclusion contributed to an average age of 23 years, 296 days, according to Infostrada Sports.
“It’s very important for the club that we keep faith in what we do,” Wenger told reporters after the game at the Emirates Stadium in London. “The players grow when they get a chance. People want it both ways -- they want to win and produce fantastic players.”
United’s defeat, its first in eight matches against Arsenal, means second-place Chelsea can take top spot on goal difference if it wins when the teams meet at Old Trafford on May 8. United has 73 points, three more than Chelsea through 35 of 38 games. Arsenal has 67 points.
Wenger said he’ll be supporting the Blues in that game because a Chelsea victory would keep alive his team’s outside hopes of winning the title. Arsenal is a 100-1 chance to win the championship, according to U.K. bookmaker William Hill. United is the 1-4 favorite ahead of 11-4 shot Chelsea.
The Gunners had been in contention before losing their way in recent weeks.
They led Liverpool before conceding a penalty in the 11th minute of injury time, gave up a 3-1 lead to tie with Tottenham and then lost 2-1 at Bolton to a 90th-minute goal. Those setbacks mean the season could be the Gunners’ sixth straight without a trophy.
“If we got nine points from these games we would have been ahead of Manchester,” Wenger said.
Arsenal lost captain Cesc Fabregas on the eve of yesterday’s game to a thigh injury. Wenger gave Ramsey his second start of the season and paired him in midfield alongside 19-year-old English national team player Jack Wilshere.
Ramsey broke his leg 15 months ago in a game at Stoke. He had a loan spell in the second-tier Championship with Nottingham Forest this season as part of his rehabilitation.
The former Cardiff City player’s scoring chance was set up by Robin van Persie. The Dutchman picked Ramsey out after dribbling into the box, and Ramsey passed the ball into the bottom corner 10 minutes into the second half.
“I’m very happy for him,” Wenger said. “He looks just now to be back to his best.”
Each team had potential penalties missed by referee Chris Foy. The first was when United’s Nemanja Vidic touched the ball away with his hand when Van Persie was poised to head at goal in the first half. United substitute Michael Owen was left frustrated when Foy failed to spot a possible trip by Gael Clichy in the closing stages.
Wenger added his voice to the calls for video technology to be brought in. United manager Alex Ferguson said the stakes are too high for such errors.
“It’s too big a game not to get the decisions right,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
Wayne Rooney’s 48th-minute free kick forced Wojciech Szczesny into a diving stop and the Pole saved from Nani after 77 minutes.
Those were the best chances for United, who rarely showed the form that’s pushed the Red Devils to the brink of the Champions League final and kept them atop the Premier League for most of the season.
Before facing Chelsea, United hosts Schalke in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal on May 4 holding a 2-0 lead from the first game.
“We’re in as good a position as we could ever have wished for from the start of the season,” Ferguson told MUTV. “We’re in the semifinal of the European Cup in the second leg, with a two-goal lead, and we go into Chelsea with equal goal difference and a home game.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja at the Emirates Stadium via the London newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at email@example.com