By Richard Clarke
Waste not, want not.
The majority of Arsenal fans will have spent the international break quietly smouldering. Their team went into that massive game at Chelsea a fortnight ago in need of an inspiration injection.
In the previous two Premier League games, they had dropped a pair of last-gasp points at Sunderland and been beaten on home territory by the adventure of West Brom. A promising start was starting to lose its shine.
Their reaction at Stamford Bridge was magnificent but the result was sadly familiar. In terms of the performance, it was about as heartening as 2-0 defeats can get however, with Birmingham City arriving at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Arsène Wenger is fully aware that the response AND the result must be right this time.
“We have taken a lot of encouragement from the Chelsea game and we want to use the positives,” said the manager on Friday. “But we are seven points behind and we cannot waste more points.
“We have had two defeats in the League recently but for me they were of a completely different shape.
“The first one was a very bad performance, the second one had a lot of regrets because we feel we were done badly. We could have taken much more out of the game.
“But that makes us realise we have a very good opportunity to do well in this League and aswell helps us correct what we did not do well on the day.
“That is why Birmingham is now a very important game for us.”
On Saturday, Arsenal will be boosted by the inclusion of Nicklas Bendtner for the first time this season. Wenger believes the Danish striker is not only over his groin problem but the fittest he has been for almost a year.
Kieran Gibbs is also back after a thigh injury and Theo Walcott (ankle) will be on Arsenal duty for the first time since his hat-trick at Blackburn on August 28. In addition, Manuel Almunia (elbow) is back in training and Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) is very close to a return.
“Sagna did his injury against Chelsea in the second half,” explained Wenger. “He didn’t go with the French squad.
"Koscielny had a back problem on Tuesday morning after the Chelsea game. He had a spasm in the back. He had a try this morning but had to move out.
“As for Vermaelen, it has been five weeks now. It is still his Achilles. To start with we thought it would just be ten days. But when he’s injured, he’s injured.”
However while physical injuries are one thing, the defeat to West Brom seemed more about mental sharpness. A relentless conveyor belt of fixtures will, of course, affect both.
"A player's mind can become tired as well as his body,” said Wenger. “If you look at the Prozone statistics, surprisingly players don't drop their performance when they play every three days in terms of how far they run and the distance covered in sprints.
"But the energy available in your brain to be zippy, the mental sharpness, that is what changes.
“Against West Brom we were not mentally sharp from the start and we have to make sure against Birmingham that we begin the game with a strong attitude.”
West Brom’s win at Arsenal was their first in 27 years. Birmingham come to Emirates Stadium without a victory in the red half of north London for 53 years. Alex McLeish’s side were worthy of their top ten finish last season but, by comparison, are struggling this term. However they still have Wenger’s respect, as well as one of his former players.
“Birmingham are a big team in England with a massive potential,” he said. “Last year they did better than anyone expected. Yes, recently they have struggled with results a little bit but they remain a dangerous side.
“They are a good, organised team who added some quality with Alex Hleb, who is someone we know well. They now have even more offensive potential. So let’s have a good solid defensive performance and put a high pace into the game.
“I expect them to be committed but we will go into the game with exactly the same attitude as usual – we will try to play football the way we love it and be committed ourselves.
“It is still very tight at the top and the feeling I have is that Chelsea can drop points. It will be down to who is the most consistent team.”
Perhaps the most consistently ‘least wasteful’, if you know what I mean.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