By Nik Brumsack
“What we want is to come back to winning habits, and after see what happens behind us. Let’s first just do the job and then maybe we will have the luck to have positive results on our side from other teams.”
It’s been a disappointing week for Arsenal. Two games, two defeats, two exits from cup competitions.
But while Watford’s FA Cup win at Emirates Stadium last weekend bore much frustration, there were at least positives for Arsène Wenger to take from Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat at Barcelona.
His side competed gamely at the Nou Camp and, when Mohamed Elneny cancelled out Neymar’s opener at the start of the second half, there was the slightest glimmer of hope that the mother of all comebacks was on.
Luis Suarez extinguished that 13 minutes later but Wenger was still heartened by the “passion and drive” his side showed against the competition holders.
“I believe overall we produced a performance we wanted to produce,” he told Arsenal Player. “There were many encouraging sings in this performance and many individual performances that were very positive. At the end of the day, we go to Barcelona, we have 20 shots on goal, 12 on target.
“You could feel on the touchline that they were insecure suddenly [when Elneny equalised]. I believe the turning point was maybe the chance Danny Welbeck had in the box against Mascherano.
“We had the opportunities to score the 2-1 once or twice. When they made it 2-1, it was over, because we had to score three goals after that.”
The Champions League dream is over for another year but Arsenal haven’t given up on their Premier League title ambitions. An inconsistent run of results has seen their chances fade in recent weeks, however it’s worth remembering that last season, the Gunners took 25 points from the nine games they have left to play.
The first of those comes at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime, just 63 hours after the final whistle blew in Barcelona. So how will Wenger prepare his team?
“By focusing the maximum on the recovery,” the manager explained. “You arrive late on Thursday, at 3am, you travel early again on Friday morning.
“The timing is not ideal but we focus just on getting the players to recover as well as we can, with medical help and with a lot of sleep as well. Then hopefully you can use the positive energy we got from the game against Barcelona and transfer that into the Everton game.”
ONE TO WATCH
Elneny’s assured performance at the Nou Camp was probably his best in an Arsenal shirt to date.
When the Egypt international joined the club, Wenger predicted that Elneny would develop into “a very interesting player”. Stand-out displays at Tottenham and Barcelona give credence to that.
Elneny had a higher pass completion rate than any other Arsenal midfielder at the Nou Camp. He recovered possession, made interceptions, tackles, clearances, and capped a busy display by scoring his first Arsenal goal - a stylish finish from 20 yards. No wonder his manager was pleased.
“He arrived in January and I integrated him slowly,” Wenger said. “He has made a big impact and his individual performance [against Barcelona] and his team attitude is absolutely fantastic.
“When you think that he’s 23 years old, that he comes from [a club in] Switzerland and that he’s not used to that intensity, I believe overall it’s very positive.
“He’s a very bright boy, very team-orientated and understands the game very quickly. He’s very keen to learn and he has a good combination of ambition and humility. That is a very good thing.”
It’s been a strange season at Everton.
|Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in his last five games in all competitions against Everton, including in each of the last three Barclays Premier League meetings
Everton have won just one of the last 18 matches in all competitions against the Gunners (W1 D6 L11)
Everton have won just one of their last eight Premier League games at Goodison Park (W1 D2 L5)
Last weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final victory over Chelsea was both impressive and much-needed, particularly when you consider that Roberto Martinez’s team went from 2-0 up after 78 minutes to 3-2 down after 90 when hosting West Ham United just seven days before.
Those two results can be viewed as a microcosm of an erratic campaign at Goodison. Everton have won, and have lost, successive league games only once this season. And only Aston Villa have won fewer home matches than the Toffees’ four.
“Yes, it is a surprise,” Wenger said, when that statistic was presented to him. “I believe that they are a good side. They are potentially a top team.”
“We have a good record [at Goodison Park], but we have many good records in England, because we have a positive history. Every game is different. Let’s go into that game. We know it’s of huge importance to us. Let’s just focus on the performance of the day.”
|Everton: Ovideo (illness - doubtful), Pienaar (knock), Browning (knee), Hibbert (knee)
Arsenal: Cech, (calf), Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Cazorla (Achilles), Ramsey (thigh), Flamini (hamstring)
While collectively, Martinez’s team have struggled for consistency, Romelu Lukaku has had no such problems.
Everton’s top scorer has 25 goals in all competitions, 18 of which have come in the Premier League. Only Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have netted more (19), and Wenger is expecting the Belgian to provide his back four with a stern test at the weekend.
“He’s progressing in every season and that’s always a very strong sign of a guy who will be a massive player," he said. "I believe technically he has improved, his finishing has improved in the last two seasons and you see that in his numbers."