Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has rounded on Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack for criticising his team's performance in Sunday's 2-0 English Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge.
|Wenger, with back turned, in a heated exchange with the Chelsea bench at the weekend [GALLO/GETTY]
Back-to-back defeats by Manchester United and Chelsea have left Arsenal nine points off the pace in the title race ahead of Wednesday's must-win Liverpool clash, who are unbeaten in their last seven league matches, at the Emirates.
Ballack said that the Arsenal manager always seemed to find excuses whenever his team lost and accused the Gunners of just playing "nice passes'' and a predictable style rather than going directly for goal.
"We knew the way Arsenal play," Germany's captain said.
"It is always the same style. If you play tactics like we did, you can beat them.
"This season and the season before they showed they weren't able to win the league.
"He (Wenger) always says things like this when he loses to find an excuse - but football is not possession of the ball and playing a nice pass, football is about winning games and that is what Manchester United showed when they played them and what we did.
"Football is a mixture of winning games and good football physically, but also technically. We have a good mix in the team as we have shown this season and you can't do more. We are in first position and that counts."
Wenger, whose team has not won a major title since the 2005 FA Cup, responded at his news conference ahead of Wednesday's game against Liverpool.
"I have to live with all the conclusions that Chelsea are a much better side, but I believe what I believe,'' Wenger said.
He pointed out that his team was one of the highest scorers in the Premier League this season with 60 goals in 25 games. Only Man United with 61 have more.
"There is only one way to play football - that is to win games and be efficient. The best way to win the games is the way which is most adapted to the qualities of your players and the philosophy of your club. That is what we try to be faithful to,'' he said.
"You have to accept that when you lose games, the way you play is always
questioned. What becomes a fantastic quality when you win, becomes a fantastic mistake when you lose. It is like that. We still have to believe in the way we do things, in the way we play and to show that strength.''
Despite Wenger's defiance, Ballack's comments will undoubtedly have touched a raw nerve with many Gunners supporters, who are growing increasingly frustrated that the wonderful football on offer at the Emirates has not yielded a trophy since 2005.
The recent setbacks have focused attention on Arsenal's lack of physical presence throughout the side, particularly in attack, where the absence of the injured Robin van Persie has been felt acutely at times.
Wenger's critics believe he could have addressed that problem in the transfer market but the Frenchman continues to believe he can deliver success his way.
Addressing Ballack's argument that Arsenal had lost the tactical battle at Stamford Bridge, Wenger commented: "I am long enough in England to know that the team who wins can say what they want. They are right.
"I am long enough in England to know that the team who wins can say what they want"
"It is my job to take a distance from that and analyse the game in a calm way with a cool head and to analyse what is right.''
Arsenal went top of the Premier League three weeks ago but have since collected only one point from their three games against Aston Villa (0-0), Man United (3-1 defeat) and Chelsea.
With Chelsea playing at Everton and Man United at Aston Villa on Wednesday, Arsenal could fall 12 points behind with 12 games remaining with a loss at home to Liverpool.
That result would also leave Liverpool two points behind Wenger's third-place team.
Fit-again Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner is in line to start against Liverpool after coming off the bench against Chelsea.