Friday, 13 December 2013

Manchester City v Arsenal: Arsene Wenger braced for toughest test of Premier League season so far


Arsène Wenger is ready for Arsenal's biggest test of the season when he takes his side to Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime.

Arsene Wenger
The doubts are everywhere expressed. While Arsenal might be enjoying a five-point lead at the top of the table as Christmas approaches, while they might be playing the most attractive and progressive football in the country, many question whether the squad have sufficient depths of resolve and experience still to be doing so come next May.
After all, we have seen this before in the fallow years since Arsenal last won the league: any flowering of promise wilts under the pressure of maintaining a sustained campaign.
At one point in both 2004-05 and 2007-08 Wenger’s teams enjoyed leads as luxurious as this season’s five points only to finish well off the pace. Which is why manager Arsène Wenger believes that the encounter with Manchester City on Saturday has a resonance that goes way beyond the three points on offer.
“It is a game where we can make a difference,” Wenger said. “If we win it will have an influence on some people. Not everybody, but some people.”
What Wenger’s players can do on Saturday is give definitive demonstration that – unlike their predecessors in the noughties – they are indeed made of the right stuff.
“Of course it [would] strengthen your beliefs,” said Wenger of the signal victory at City would send out. “But I am convinced we believe in ourselves anyway, no matter what happens.”
Examinations do not come more challenging than a visit to the Etihad. In a clean sweep of home wins this season, Manchester City have eviscerated every Premier League guest. Were they not such jittery travellers, Manuel Pellegrini’s side would be galloping towards the title, rendering redundant any fretting over Arsenal’s own championship credentials.
“You make them think they are playing away,” smiled Wenger of the tactical challenge posed in east Manchester. “City have a very strong squad, but I look at my squad and think I do not envy them.”
Ending the season’s most gilded home run would send out all sorts of messages about Arsenal. Not least end the nagging doubt that they suffer from a failure of nerve when faced with proper opposition. And sometimes not even that proper. After all, on their last visit to Manchester they failed to do what West Bromwich AlbionEverton and Newcastle United have all managed this season: win at Old Trafford.
“We have been very consistent away from home,” insisted Wenger. “The only blip we had was at Manchester United and people forget that United had two shots on target on the day and they scored a goal off a shoulder from a corner. But that’s what we can learn from the Man United game. We forgot a little bit to project ourselves forward. And that's what we want to do better tomorrow, to be dangerous offensively.”
They will certainly need to be more dangerous offensively than on Wednesday when they were beaten by Napoli in the Champions League. That and retain more possession.
“We need to make sure we have the ball,” agreed Wenger. “When they have the ball they are dangerous: [David] Silva, [Yaya] Toure, [Sergio] Agüero, [Alvaro] Negredo, they have the potential to be dangerous. For us it is important we have the ball.”
And if victory can send out a signal of intent, so losing carries huge implications. Although Arsenal will remain at the top of the division, with Chelsea as their next opponents, defeat could rapidly become a morale-sapping pattern. Not that Wenger believes such a consideration adds pressure.
“I don’t see why you should be scared. Last season when we went to Newcastle on the last day and we had absolutely to win you could think, ‘If we don’t win it will be a disaster’. Today we are in a position where we can look much more at the game in a positive way. Let’s not forget as well that if you are in City’s position and they lose, then they are nine points behind, so they have more negative pressure than we have.”
Whatever the final implications of the game today, it would have assisted Wenger in his preparation for his most significant challenge yet this season had he not been obliged to play away at the club with the best home record in the division barely 48 hours after returning from a strenuous Champions League tie in the south of Italy. Not that he is seeking to take issue with the intricacies of the Premier League fixture programme. He is not Jose Mourinho after all.
“That is not an excuse for us at all,” he says of being obliged to play on a Saturday lunchtime after a Wednesday game in Europe. “We have the fixtures we have. If you had given me the opportunity to do it, I would not have done it like that. But I do not complain. It is another opportunity to show we have the mental strength to deal with it.” Thus it is that every week we learn more about what Wenger’s exciting Arsenal team are really made of.
The Telegraph

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