Wenger salutes strikers

LONDON. — Arsene Wenger insisted the heat is on at the top of the English Premier League after all the top sides won this week. Goals from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez ensured Arsenal beat QPR 2-1 on Wednesday night and remained in third place with 10 games to go. But Manchester United and Liverpool also remain in the hunt for Champions League places with Southampton and Tottenham just behind.

“It’s hot up there because everyone won tonight,” said the Gunners boss.

“We can only focus on our performances and keep going. Ten games to go, six at home, four away. We just need to focus on our performances.”

Wenger said the second-half substitution of Sandro, who was playing his first match since November, allowed Arsenal to take control at Loftus Road.

“We were nervous in the first half, they put a shift in physically. But they paid for it in the second.

“Sandro played a big part in stopping us playing. But he came off after an hour and it was easy for us.”

Wenger also praised the mental strength of his forwards after Arsenal saw off QPR to make the ideal start to a demanding schedule of five matches in 17 days.

A 2-1 victory at Loftus Road on Wednesday night left Arsenal’s manager relieved, with his side’s position in the English Premier League’s top four cemented before they focus on overturning a 3-1 deficit in Monaco in two weeks’ time in the Champions League last 16 second leg.

Olivier Giroud missed chances in Arsenal’s home defeat to Monaco which would have given the tie a different complexion at its halfway stage had he taken them.

And Alexis Sanchez had been on a run of seven matches without a goal, but both he and Giroud scored within five second-half minutes to clinch Arsenal’s seventh victory in eight matches, as they maintained their push to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition for an 18th consecutive season.

If they are do so, Giroud and Sanchez will have to fire and Wenger believes this was evidence that they are capable of coming through testing times, in light of recent criticism.

“We were all down after the Monaco game and we responded well against Everton and again today. I think the confidence that we got against Everton paid today,” Wenger said.

“He’s strong mentally, Olivier. He can take some criticism and he’s shown that but I feel it was a bit harsh for him. OK, he missed some chances but that can happen.”

Arsenal had barely threatened Rangers’ goal before Giroud pounced on Kieran Gibbs’ deflected cross to notch up his eighth goal in his last 10 Premier League starts.

Arsenal could have been two goals clear moments later when Sanchez opted to pass when one-on-one with Robert Green, before a more selfless moment allowed him to beat the Rangers goalkeeper at his near post to end his barren run.

“It’s good because when you don’t score for seven or eight games it is on your mind even if you say it’s not,” Wenger added.

“But he took his chance well and he’s tricky and has a short back-lift and scored a good goal. He never gives up and that’s the strength of a good striker as well.

“He’s resilient and I don’t know what happened before. The fact that he still scored showed he has the mental strength to respond.” — AFP.