By Richard Clarke in Gelsenkirchen
Arsène Wenger has called on his Arsenal side to revive their creativity ahead of the crucial Champions League Group B game at Schalke on Tuesday.
Over the years, the Frenchman has continually fashioned attractive, free-flowing sides that always manufacture a multitude of chances. Sometimes they have missed openings, sometimes their attacking attitude has left them vulnerable at the back. But opportunities have always knocked.
Right now, however, the manager admits his side needs a shot of their old inspiration. Meanwhile, on the flipside, he will want to retain the best defensive record of all the 92 English clubs.
"Yes, if you look at our overall performance at the back we are indeed good,” said Wenger. “In fact we are still the best defence in the league if you look at the goals conceded.
“But at the moment we don't have to focus too much on that.
"I think what is most important right now is that we find our game back. Our game is about creating chances, about going forward, about having an offensive drive.
"That, at the moment, is missing a bit.
“I believe I have a team of great players and perhaps they have forgotten a little bit how good they are.
"What is most important is that we play again with our enthusiasm, desire to create chances and enjoy our game, more than thinking about if we concede a goal or not.
“In the past we have been criticised for giving chances away but we are not used to being criticised for not creating because we have a team based on that. That’s why I think it's important we come back to what our game is all about.”
Yes, flair is Wenger’s trademark, his USP and his most cherished footballing commodity.
Any defeat at Manchester United hurts but it was the manner of the weekend loss that mattered most and that is why the manager is prioritising the performance over everything else in Germany.
“We have analysed Saturday,” he said. “We have watched it, spoken about it. We know that we didn't play as well as expected. There is only one way to respond to that and it is to come out with a good performance.
“Result is always linked to performance. You cannot go into the game and think ‘no matter about the performance, we just want a result’. We want to think about playing well, that's what we focus on.”
That is Wenger’s way and it has served Arsenal wonderfully well over the past 16 years. The current predicament is unusual but far from unique and remains eminently solvable. There is just too much magic in the feet of his team’s conjurors for them not to start casting spells once more.
And Arsenal could do with a bit of wand-waving in Gelsenkirchen. After three games, Schalke lead Group B with seven points, Wenger’s men are one behind but Olympiacos are within striking distance with three.
Head-to-head record counts above goal difference in the Champions League group stage so even a narrow victory would leave the German side with an advantage in what is shaping up to be a tight finish. You have to think that the winner on Tuesday would be confident of finishing top while the loser would have questions over their very qualification.
And Wenger will be very aware Arsenal’s last game in the group takes them to Athens.
Schalke were good value for their 2-0 win at Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago. Huub Stevens has fashioned a pacy, direct, clever side and has his own wizards in the form of Jefferson Farfan, Ibrahim Afellay and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
At the weekend, they lost for only the second time this season when they went down 3-2 at Hoffenheim. But Schalke have scored twice in 13 of their 15 games this term so, unless Arsenal can shut them out (something only Bayern Munich have done), the visitors will have to create those opportunities the manager so desires.
“Schalke are a very good side,” said Wenger. “You can see that in their league position.
“They are a very tight team but we have learned from that. We did not have a lot of chances against them at Emirates Stadium and so we have got to switch better from defence to attack.
“They did not have many chances either but they had clear-cut ones and that’s what we of course want to stop.
“But, as I said, I believe for us it’s important that we create more than we do at the moment. Our game was always about that and we have to worry about being better at our style of play.”
Tuesday is big for Arsenal. It was always going to be a bigger game than Saturday – purely because the time for recovery in this competition is much shorter.
Difficult spells occur in every season. They often emerge slowly and, though they can end the same way, the fast-track recovery is a dramatic performance on an away ground.
There is an opportunity at Schalke on Tuesday; a chance to snatch back the initiative in the season.
And it is foolish to think that Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal will struggle to create chances for very much longer.
Schalke: Papadopoulos (elbow), Metzelder (abductor)
Arsenal: Ramsey (groin), Gibbs (thigh), Rosicky (tendon), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hip), Gervinho (ankle), Fabianski (ankle), Diaby (thigh)