Arsene Wenger slammed his Arsenal players for being “complacent and not focused” in their 2-1 loss to Ostersunds in the Europa League on Thursday.
Arsenal still advanced 4-2 on aggregate to the round of 16 after winning the first leg 3-0 in Sweden, but were in danger of suffering a humiliating exit after the visitors jumped out to 2-0 lead in the first half.
Hosam Aiesh and Ken Sema scored within a two-minute span to rock the hosts, who responded through a goal from Sead Kolasinac just after the break.
“We were not in the races in the first half,” Wenger told a news conference. “We were in control in the second half, but in the first half we were in trouble and in danger. Because we were complacent and not focused.
“We were open every time we lost the ball and had no ideas with the ball. And that’s why we were in trouble. Overall we responded very well, and we did the job to qualify. That’s what you have to take from the night.”
Wenger fielded another strong side, with just three changes from the team that easily won in Ostersunds last week. But they didn’t create a single scoring chance in the opening 45 minutes, with Ostersunds slicing their defence open on several occasions.
And Wenger admitted his players may have thought the tie was already over.
“We prepared properly in a serious way, but you have external circumstances,” Wenger said. “The fact that we won 3-0, the fact that we have another big game [the Carabao Cup final] on Sunday, the fact that people subconsciously think they have just to turn up to win the game. Football doesn’t work like that. We played against a good side.”
Arsenal’s back four struggled badly in the first half, with Kolasinac losing track of Aiesh for the first goal and Sema toying with Calum Chambers before scoring the second, but Wenger didn’t want to single out any particular players.
“It’s difficult to isolate. In the first half, I would say it’s more difficult to find any good performances. It’s easier to find bad performances,” he said. “And after that, for the defenders maybe it was even more difficult.
“But I felt in the first half the whole team was not at the level you expect. It was not easy for the defenders as well because we lost the ball too early, we didn’t screen well when we lost the ball.”
Alex Iwobi and Jack Wilshere both went off in the second half, but Wenger said neither was injured. And Wilshere was in full agreement with his coach’s assessment of Arsenal’s poor performance following the match.
“We were nowhere near it, especially in the first half,” Wilshere said. “We weren’t good enough. To be honest, we did improve in the second half but it still wasn’t good enough.
“We’re through and that’s all that counts, so we will see who we get in the draw. We’ve a big game to come on Sunday too, so we can focus on that.
“But when you’re 3-0 up in a two-legged tie you still have to go again — it was only half-time. Maybe we underestimated them a little bit, but the main thing is we’re through.”
Ostersunds became just the second visiting team to win at the Emirates this season — joining Manchester United — and coach Graham Potter said he felt more pride than regrets over letting the first leg slip away.
“I’m incredibly proud as you can imagine of the performance,” Potter said. “We talked about trying to play well, trying to win the match and then hope for the miracle.
“We got two out of three of course, but the manner of our performance, the character of the players, the courage of the players, the quality of the football, the intelligence of the play was at a real good level.
“We hope [Arsenal] go on to win the tournament. But from our perspective, we’ve gone pretty much toe to toe with them.”