By Richard Clarke
“Apart from the fact that we won two games, not a lot has changed,” smiled Arsène Wenger midway through his press conference on Friday.
It was a massive understatement given his thunderous mood seven days earlier.
Then the Arsenal manager felt aggrieved after the Stoke defeat and besieged ahead of another expected reverse against Manchester United.
It was perceived that Wenger’s season may crumble under the weight of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and, from the rubble, the first serious doubts about the Frenchman’s 12-year tenure may emerge.
A week later and suddenly it appears Arsenal’s present and future are assured. The 2-1 win over Manchester United puts them right back in the title picture and a 3-0 drubbing of Wigan by the Young Guns suggests the Carling Cup is still the best finishing school in English football.
Of course, neither reaction is entirely right. Arsenal weren’t no-hopers last week and are not champions-elect this.
You only have to think back to the last time they went to Emirates Stadium on the back of a superb Carling Cup result for evidence.
Don’t remember? Let me remind you.
The visitors were Hull.
Wenger is well aware his side have been consistently inconsistent this season. And their mentality is sure to be examined by fifth-place Villa on Saturday.
“It’s a massive game for us,” said the 59-year-old. “A big test after the Man United game and the midweek game against Wigan because we have built up belief again and we want to develop from there.
“This game will give us a big answer about that. We have to maintain the commitment, the heat we put up and of course play even better.
“Villa are physically strong and technically efficient. They have a lot of pace and are really quick to adjust their style. They can play straight in the air or on the ground. So they have a variation of weapons that can be dangerous for their opponent.
“Also they have 20 points at the moment, only three behind us, so they are right there.”
Manuel Almunia (head) and Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle) are included in the squad after recovering from injury. But Robin van Persie (suspended) and Emmanuel Eboue (knee) are missing.
Villa have lost their last two games and Hull their last three. That dip has seen the so-called Big Four become the top four. Wenger argues Martin O’Neill’s side are the most likely to break into that quartet but he is aware of other invaders too.
“You have Tottenham coming back, you have Man City who have a big potential and then there is Newcastle maybe,” he said. “Then you have Hull who have broken in but how will they respond to defeat? But they have that potential too.
“It is very, very open. I do not say that to please people, I really believe that in the Premier League. From the experience I have, this year every single game is a battle and difficult to win – no matter where you play. For example teams like Everton will still come back to fight and to break in.
“I feel it is tougher than ever this year but it is as well more interesting. It looks as though everybody can drop points and, in our situation, that is very interesting.”
And how does he reflect on a highly ‘interesting’ seven days?
“Well,” he replied. “Of course, I am happy when I win and not happy when we lose. But I have the same belief last week as this week. I know that the game against Man United could have gone both ways. That's the game.
“But there is only ever one answer and that is quality. I can talk in the press conference but what speaks the best for our Club is the performance of the team on the pitch and to win the big games.”
That’s why, while Man United was massive, its significance can only be compounded by victory over Villa.Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source