ARSENE WENGER made a shock tactical switch to stop Arsenal’s away-day rot – then smiled: “That shows that even at my age you can change.”
The under-fire Gunners boss, 67, used a back three for the first time in 20 years, as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil helped beat Middlesbrough.
It was their first away league win in three months – and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain alarmingly admitted the team had not been giving 100 per cent in recent weeks.
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The Gunners star, 23, said: “What we’ve done previously has not been good enough.
“It’s a massive honour to play for Arsenal and you have to give it 100 per cent week, in week out.
“Maybe that had been slipping. That was the first thing we needed and the three points were massive.”
Wenger said that shipping three goals in their last four league away games forced him to play three at the back for the first time since his debut season with the Gunners.
And he thinks it also proved a point to Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who told a fans’ meeting this month that the Frenchman must become a “catalyst for change” in the summer.
Wenger said: “It is the first time in 20 years – that shows you that even at my age you can change.
“Sometimes when your team lacks confidence, something new helps them believe and focus.
“The fact we conceded three at West Brom and three at Palace, I feel it was needed.
“I felt we were recently a bit vulnerable defensively.
“I wanted a bit more reassurance to the team.
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“It worked well in the first half. We were solid.
“In the second half one or two times we could have been more dominant in the air.”
Last night’s win move Arsenal above Everton into sixth.
But they remain seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City in the race for the Champions League, albeit with a game in hand.
Asked if their top-four hopes would have ended had they not won at the Riverside, Wenger replied: “Yes. Mathematically it is still possible now, even if it is difficult, but we will give it a go.
“The clarity is there – we have to win every game to have a chance of getting in the top four.
“When you don’t win confidence goes quickly and comes back slowly.
“I felt there was nervousness there in the way we played here. We were a bit over cautious in situations.
“But hopefully that win will give us more confidence.”
Sanchez and Ozil, who are both yet to sign new deals at Arsenal, scored either side of Alvaro Negredo’s 50th-minute equaliser.
Wenger added: “They still have a one-year contract.
“I don’t think there is an urgency with that in any way.
“You perform on the football pitch because you love to play football.”
Defeat for Middlesbrough leaves them six points adrift of safety and they are winless in the league in 15 games.
Caretaker Boro boss Steve Agnew said: “This is a missed opportunity for us and we realise the size of the task ahead.
“But we are six points behind with a game in hand and a terrific goal difference.
“I thought the players were amazing in terms of their effort, attitude and commitment.”