ARSENE WENGER vented his frustration at referee Martin Atkinson last night as Arsenal crashed to another big-game defeat at Chelsea.
The Gunners have won just one league encounter against the five teams currently above them in the Premier League so far this season and were beaten 2-1 at snowy Stamford Bridge.
It was a result which left them 11 points adrift of the Blues in third and cast major doubt on their top-four credentials.
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Arsenal were simply awful in the first half but manager Wenger was as critical of Atkinson as he was of his own players, insisting neither Chelsea goal should have stood.
Wenger was livid on the touchline as Juan Mata fired the home side ahead moments after Ramires appeared to foul Francis Coquelin.
The Frenchman’s mood was not improved when Gunners goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was adjudged to have brought down Ramires in the box, claiming the Brazilian should have been booked for diving.
Wenger said: ‘‘The referee gave a lot of free-kicks, and some much less than the Coquelin one. It’s frustrating.
‘‘It doesn’t mean we should have conceded the goal but, in the big games, these decisions have big implications.’’ Admitting he was ‘‘surprised’’ Atkinson did not send off Szczesny after penalising him for a last-man foul, Wenger added: ‘‘He could have given Ramires a yellow card as well.’’
However, Wenger refused to absolve his players from blame for the defeat, the second league game in succession in which they were made to pay for a slow start after last weekend’s loss to Manchester City.
‘‘We had a similar start to Man City last week, didn’t defend too well and gave them too much incentive,’’ he said.
‘‘We didn’t play well in the first half, but we were much more dangerous in the second half, with a different attitude.
‘‘Unfortunately we didn’t make enough of our corners, free-kicks and the chances we created. That’s why we lost the game.
‘‘It’s very damaging for our position in the league and difficult to swallow.’’ Having trumpeted 15 successive top-four finishes as justification for the way he has managed Arsenal in recent years, a minimum sixpoint gap to fourth-placed Tottenham – albeit with a game in hand – will not make for happy reading.
Wenger added: ‘‘The table is the table.
‘‘We have lost two big games in the last week, and that’s very damaging for us.
‘‘We cannot afford to drop points any more if we want to be in the top four.’’ The Gunners were all over the place at the back in the first half, although they might easily have snatched a point after Theo Walcott pulled a goal back after the break.
Admitting Arsenal’s problems were both physical and psychological, Wenger added: ‘‘The team has fantastic quality and spirit, but we come into the game when we’re 2-0 down. At the moment, that’s worrying.
‘‘In the big games, once you start 2-0 down it’s very difficult.
I feel we were not well positioned on the pitch. We were stretched, gave them too much room to play and didn’t defend tightly enough.
‘‘We were always allowing them to play wherever they wanted.’’ Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez insisted it was not only his players who benefited from controversial decisions as he finally broke his 2013 home hoodoo.
Claiming the European champions were denied a second penalty, he added: ‘‘We deserved to win. The team were doing really well. You can analyse every incident.
‘‘The team were very good in the first half, and defended with character in the second half.’’