Arsene Wenger refused to criticize his Arsenal flops despite suffering one of the most humiliating nights of his career as League Two minnows Bradford City beat the Gunners 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the League Cup quarter-finals.
Wenger’s side thought they had got out of jail when defender Thomas Vermaelen forced extra-time with an 88th-minute equalizer after Garry Thompson’s shock 16th-minute strike for the hosts at Valley Parade on Tuesday, but Arsenal could not find the winner in extra-time and Bradford went on to book their place in the semi-finals for the first time after Vermaelen hit a post with the decisive spot-kick in the shootout following earlier misses by Santi Cazorla and Marouane Chamakh.
It was the latest in an increasingly long list of chastening defeats for Wenger this season and is sure to lead to more criticism of the Frenchman, yet he stuck by his players even though they had let him down yet again.
“In the second half and extra-time it was all us, but it’s an English cup game on a difficult pitch,” Wenger said. “Overall, I cannot fault the effort of the players. It was a traditional English cup game and Bradford got on top of us. The pitch was a bit slippery. Bradford defended very deep and played the ball forward. There was not much space.”
“When it goes to penalties, you know what can happen. When you miss the first penalty, of course, it is difficult. We played a very offensive team, and for over an hour we played with five strikers and created many goal-scoring situations, but they defended very well and it was difficult to play this kind of game,” he said. “We lost on penalties against a team who defended well. I cannot fault the effort of our team and you have to give credit to Bradford. I don’t think it was a lack of quality, it’s just we could not convert our chances for different reasons.”
The lackluster nature of Arsenal’s exit, combined with the team’s seven-year trophy drought, gave this defeat an even darker context for the struggling north London outfit, but with his club now in the midst of a full-blown crisis, Wenger still insisted he was not embarrassed by the manner of the loss.
“You feel embarrassed when you don’t give everything,” he said. “I think the players are more disappointed and frustrated. When you go out it is never good enough for Arsenal, but we’ll get over this. It’s part of our job.”
Meanwhile, Bradford manager Phil Parkinson insisted the result was just reward for his side’s heroic efforts.
“It’s a great night for the club,” he said. “We wanted to show we’re a decent side and we did that. I don’t want my comments to be about the penalties, but the performance because we were three minutes away from beating them in normal time. We asked a lot of them, but the real talking point was how we played overall.”
Parkinson also saluted goalkeeper Matt Duke for his penalty save from Cazorla and for keeping Arsenal at bay on the few occasions they broke through the resolute Bradford defense.
“The defense was outstanding and Matt Duke pulled off some really good saves on a difficult night for goalkeepers,” Parkinson said. “Our defense protected him well. We’re confident in penalty shootout situations and when called upon Matt Duke made a great save again. We just want to enjoy this now. The enormity has not sunk in yet, but when they see the headlines they will realize what they have done. There’s a big gulf between the sides in terms of finance. We were surprised how strong their team was, but it put pressure on them as it put all his cards on the table. They showed us a lot of respect, but they knew we were a decent side.”