By Rob Kelly
“We have a target. It’s about how we can maintain that focus on this target and how we can recover from disappointments and how we can maintain our solidarity and our desire to play as a team.” - Arsène Wenger
In the wake of Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester United, you could be forgiven for thinking Arsenal’s title hopes were all but dead in the water.
Much of the post-match analysis has taken on the form of a wake, the last rites being delivered on a season that was apparently in its final throes.
Arsène Wenger has been there and seen it all before of course, and while he understands the emotions that accompany such a result, he insists that a sense of perspective is needed.
Indeed, should the Gunners beat Swansea City on Wedesday night, they will only be three points off the top of the table with 10 matches remaining.
It is a position many would have taken at the start of the season - especially going into March, which has traditionally been the team’s strongest month with a win percentage of 67 per cent.
“We have a target - it’s about how we can maintain that focus on this target and how we can recover from disappointments and how we can maintain our solidarity and our desire to play as a team,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
|Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Cazorla (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)
Swansea City: None
“We have beaten Leicester, we lost 3-2 at Manchester United. Yes, we are disappointed, but that can happen. It’s how we recover from that.
“Let’s be positive. I believe that this team has shown a lot of great mental strength through the whole season. We have as well not to go overboard and panic. Let’s focus on what we want to do.
“Every Premier League game is difficult for everybody. What we have learnt during the season is that everybody drops points and how you maintain your focus and your togetherness will certainly be decisive at the end of the season.”
ONE TO WATCH
While Sunday’s defeat against Manchester United certainly hurt, one of the positives was yet another bright performance from Mesut Ozil.
The Germany playmaker is enjoying a stellar season, and registered his 18th assist of the campaign at Old Trafford - putting him only two behind the all-time Premier League record set by Thierry Henry.
Wenger is delighted with Ozil’s output, and feels that the World Cup winner has been increasingly influential as he becomes more clinical in front of goal.
The 27-year-old has seven goals this term, making it his joint-most prolific season since joining the club in September 2013, and the boss feels there is even more to come.
“Mesut is a playmaker and Thierry was a striker so they are in completely different positions and have completely different psychological profiles, but they are two exceptional players,” he said.
“It is good that Mesut follows Thierry on the assists, I want him to follow him on the goals as well now!
“I am pleased [with his improving goal record]. What I am very pleased about is before he never got in the box and now he starts to get into positions where he can score goals.
“He is a good finisher because when he gets in front of goals, he is deadly.”
It has been a turbulent season for Swansea City, who are on to their third manager in the space of seven months and find themselves hovering dangerously above the relegation zone.
|The nine Premier League matches between Arsenal and Swansea have seen four wins apiece and one draw
Just one of the last 26 goals scored in this fixture in all competitions has been netted in the first half
The Gunners have won eight and lost just one of their last 12 Premier League matches at the Emirates Stadium
It has been a somewhat surprising fall from grace for the Welsh club, who are an established Premier League force, but there have been positive signs under Italian head coach Francesco Guidolin.
The highly-experienced former Palermo, Parma and Udinese boss has added more defensive stability to the team since taking over in January and is an excellent tactician.
“They have a good team who are established in the Premier League,” Wenger said. “But that shows you, because the Premier League is so tight, once you have a lack of confidence, it’s even more difficult. They had a bad start to the season and after, it’s difficult.”
Former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski has had a fine season, and was in inspired form in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, repelling a barrage of shots before the Swans eventually slipped to defeat.
Wenger is pleased to see the Poland international thriving, and says he always believed in his talents during his seven years in north London.
“I’m happy for him, because he is an exceptional goalkeeper,” the manager said. “He played here and I didn’t want to lose him, but I can understand that he wanted to go and play.
“I’m not surprised that he does so well. He’s a very positive guy and a very intelligent boy as well. He’s very dedicated, very professional and I’m very happy for him.”