Wenger defiant as 'joke' Arsenal condemned by pundits
LONDON (Reuters) - Arsene Wenger remained defiant on Sunday after Arsenal's 3-2 capitulation at Manchester United prompted much criticism, with one distinguished former international suggesting their performance bordered on "a joke".
As the London club's ability to make the most of their best chance in years to win the Premier League was called into question, manager Wenger was adamant his team had the character to bounce back in the next two games.
After being outplayed at home by Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek and then losing ground to second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with their defeat at United, former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, now a trenchant TV analyst, led the shrill chorus of criticism.
"Arsenal today bordered on being a joke," the former Scotland hardman said on Sky Sports. "It was tailor-made for a proper team to come here and really do a number on a very under-strength Man United. And they didn't.
"I'll stand on my head if they prove me wrong and go and win this league because that was totally unacceptable."
Arsenal succumbed to two goals from 18-year-old Premier League debutant Marcus Rashford, who scored twice on his Europa League bow three days earlier, while United also blooded Tim Fosu-Mensah, 18, and James Weir, 20, as substitutes.
Having failed to glean a point against United's kids, Wenger's men must now beat Swansea City on Wednesday to restore confidence before a crucial derby at Spurs, their neighbours and fiercest rivals for more than 100 years, on Saturday.
"We lost three points but we have to show we are up for the fight and give absolutely everything in our next game," said Wenger. "Things can change quickly only if you keep going and keep believing.
"Why is it difficult to stay positive? We can show on Wednesday night that we have great character and mental response and that's what we want to do.
"I couldn't question our commitment or desire at all."
Others did, however. Not just Souness but also Thierry Henry, the Frenchman who has a claim on being Arsenal's greatest player.
"That wasn't the performance of a team that wants to be champions," Henry said on Sky.
"They didn't reassure me about anything."
(Reporting by Steve Tongue, editing by Ian Chadband)