Arsene Wenger admits catching leaders Man City 'will be difficult'
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger admitted "it will be difficult" to get back in the Premier League title race after Arsenal's 2-1 loss at Watford left them nine points behind leaders Manchester City.
The Gunners gave up a 1-0 lead as Troy Deeney netted from the penalty spot in the second half and Tom Cleverley scored an injury-time winner from a rebound at Vicarage Road, with Wenger's team wasting a chance to climb back in the top four.
It was Arsenal's third loss in four league away games this season, leaving them in sixth place with 13 points from eight games.
"It will be difficult [to catch the leaders], of course. But I think at the moment we are not too much looking at Man City, we are looking at ourselves," Wenger told a news conference.
"We have to bounce back from our disappointment today because we look like we can make results when we play the game like we did in the first half. But we need to be at the level for 90 minutes like that."
Per Mertesacker had put Arsenal ahead in the first half, heading home a corner to mark his first league start since April 2016. But Arsenal wasted a number of chances to increase the lead, with substitute Mesut Ozil shooting meekly at Heurelho Gomes moments before Watford's equaliser.
Hector Bellerin was adjudged to have tripped Watford standout Richarlison in the box, although replays suggested there was minimal contact.
Wenger was among those who was adamant that it wasn't a foul.
"I would say it was no penalty. It was a creation from the referee, and that's it," Wenger said. "I just think the decision is wrong and that's it.
"Just looking at the fact that it was at a moment in the game where it was absolutely important for Watford. I just think it's no penalty, no goal."
But Wenger was also adamant that Arsenal should have put the game away by that point.
"We should have, yes, of course. [The penalty] is not the only major factor in the game. I believe that we played really well in the first half. I'm not so happy with the overall level in the second half," he said. "Our level dropped in the second half, and we missed many chances to kill the game.
"The number two and number three goals should have been scored. After that at 1-1 there was no need to panic. And on the second goal we can only look at ourselves."
Wenger left Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey out of the squad completely after their disappointing international break, with Chile and Wales both missing out on the World Cup. Ozil was only on the bench as he returned from a knee inflammation.
But Wenger didn't want to blame fatigue from the international break for the result.
"It was a bit more killer instinct in front of goal. Despite that we should have won the game. That's where we our guilty," he said. "The decision on the penalty, we can have no impact on that at all. Not everybody is at the same level physically, that's for sure. But I feel despite that we should have won the game."
Arsenal also had more injury problems to worry about as Danny Welbeck -- who was making his return from another injury -- limped off with an apparent hamstring problem. Laurent Koscielny, who had been doubtful because of an Achilles problem, then had to be taken off with a calf problem.
That substitution caused some confusion as Wenger had already announced he was taking off Alex Iwobi for Jack Wilshere. But he then had to put Rob Holding on for his third substitution instead, denying Wilshere a first Premier Leauge appearance of the season.
"It looks to be a hamstring [for Welbeck]. I don't really know because everybody is shocked in the dressing room. But it looks like a muscular problem," Wenger said. "And Koscielny is a muscular problem as well."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.