By Rob Kelly
“When you see the players battling for each other you want them to be rewarded. It creates a support behind the team that is essential to their success. When you play an important game like on Sunday, it will be vital.” - Arsène Wenger
After a bruising set of away fixtures, it must have been something of a relief for Arsène Wenger to get his squad back to London Colney in one piece this week.
Successive points at Liverpool and Stoke City are a decent return from two of the toughest away days in the calendar, and while it may have allowed the chasing pack to make up ground, there remains plenty of cause for encouragement.
The manager was particularly impressed with the spirit and togetherness the team showed at the Britannia Stadium, and believes it will stand them in good stead over the coming months.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Coquelin (knee - doubt), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring - doubt), Ospina (groin)
Chelsea: Hazard (groin - doubt)
“We gave absolutely everything,” the manager told Arsenal Player. “We have been respectful of the spirit and the commitment that we want to put into every single game and overall it was a hard-fought point [at Stoke].
“We have produced along the same lines of what we did against Liverpool. The only negative on the day was that we couldn’t score with the few chances that we created, and we had a bit of a lack of creativity maybe compared to the Liverpool game.
“However, we have shown again that we are ready for a fight and I am pleased to see that.”
Having come through two huge tests, Arsenal have another to contend with as Chelsea prepare to renew hostilities at the Emirates. Wenger’s side do not have the best record against the champions, but the manager is convinced there is something special about this group that can help them in the biggest games.
“As a manager and as a fan, when you see the players battling for each other you want them to be rewarded. It creates a support behind the team that is essential to their success,” he said.
“When you play an important game like on Sunday, it will be vital. We know that this support comes from the special vibes that come from the team and showing that battling spirit and solidarity.
“When you lose games you’re always accused of lacking fighting spirit. We have lost some games in the past where we fought as well, but I think there’s a special solidarity in the team, a special desire to do well, and I’m sure that is a needed ingredient to be successful in this league.
“For us to have a chance to do well until the end of the season, we have to take care of that.”
ONE TO WATCH
It has been a week to remember for Theo Walcott, as he celebrated 10 years since signing for the club as a fresh-faced 16-year-old.
As Wenger says, Walcott has experienced a series of highs and lows over the course of that decade, but he boasts a fine scoring record against Chelsea.
Having opened his Arsenal account against them in the 2007 League Cup final, Walcott has gone on to net four more times against the Blues - more than any other club.
He is likely to be stationed out on the left flank again for Sunday’s game, but Wenger is convinced he can once again cause problems for the champions.
“I believe that Theo’s movement off the ball is great, so he depends a lot on the service he gets,” the manager said.
“He has improved his team attitude and tactical discipline a lot. After that depends a lot on if we dominate the game and the quality of the balls we get.
“He is very important to me in the way he goes behind the defenders. That is a quality you do not find anymore. It gives us something that is very important in our offensive game.”
For all of Chelsea’s travails this season, one shining light amid the gloom has been the form of Willian.
|Arsenal have won seven and lost none of their last nine Premier League games at the Emirates Stadium, conceding just four goals in that run
Three of the last four Premier League meetings between these two sides at the Emirates have ended as 0-0 draws
The Brazilian midfielder is a skilful, direct attacker who likes to take on defenders - while also posing a real threat from set-pieces.
He has scored eight goals in 30 appearances for Chelsea this season, and Wenger is well aware of his talents ahead of Sunday’s game.
“He is very tricky, very good at dribbling and at getting past people,” the manager said. “He is a very mobile player and also very hard-working.
“He combines so many qualities and the fact he is not very tall but very agile and quick to change his direction makes him difficult to read for his opponents.”