By Rob Kelly
“We have shown that what was questioned in our side was not right and that is all we could do - give the answer on the pitch. We did that in a convincing way.” - Arsène Wenger
There was a curious mood when the final whistle blew at Saturday’s pulsating north London derby, a sense that many could not decide whether they should be pleased with a share of the spoils or not.
Having seen his side lose their previous three fixtures - with their character widely questioned – Arsène Wenger was certainly satisfied with the response, even if a point did not much help Arsenal's title ambitions.
But, having been reduced to 10 men early in the second half before conceding twice in the space of two minutes, it was highly encouraging for the manager to see his team fight their way back - and almost win the game late on.
Wenger insists the Premier League is “a long way from over”, and feels that if the Gunners can replicate the application and character they displayed at White Hart Lane for the rest of the season, they will be well positioned to challenge.
“There are two aspects [to the derby], and the first is mathematical,” he told Arsenal Player. “We could not afford to lose the game and we wanted to win it absolutely, so on that front we have done the minimum that was requested.
“The other is the way we played and the way we responded mentally - in both senses it was very positive and very encouraging. We have shown that what was questioned in our side was not right and that is all we could do - give the answer on the pitch. We did that in a convincing way.”
|Hull City: None
Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny (both calf), Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Cazorla (Achilles), Coquelin (suspended)
While there was plenty to buoy the boss ahead of Tuesday night’s FA Cup fifth-round replay at Hull, he has a difficult few days to plan for. After all, how often do you not know who your weekend opponent will be, on what day you will play and in which competition you will compete?
“You always keep the same way of acting, which is to take care of the next game and then you deal with the consequences of it,” he said. “That is what we will do - we want to go to Hull and try to qualify and hopefully play in the FA Cup again [against Watford on Sunday].”
On top of that, the gruelling derby at White Hart Lane is likely to necessitate changes to the Arsenal team, especially as the Hull game is the first of four fixtures in the space of 12 days.
“I have to rotate a little bit because some players have played many games and I have fresh players available as well,” he said. “All the players in my squad have nearly the same quality and it is not very difficult [to rotate]. The difficulty for me is to find the right balance in the team to be efficient.”
Whoever the opponent and whatever the make-up of his side, Wenger expects the same level of intensity his players brought to the game against Tottenham as they embark on a pivotal period.
ONE TO WATCH
Wenger’s decision to hand Mohamed Elneny his first-ever Premier League start last weekend raised some eyebrows - but it worked well.
Despite the intensity of the occasion, the Egypt international coped admirably as he and Francis Coquelin dominated the centre of midfield, giving the team the necessary defensive protection and adding some much needed balance until the latter’s sending off.
Elneny finished with the highest pass completion rate of any Arsenal midfielder (80.5 per cent) bar Mesut Ozil, made the third highest number of clearances, made two interceptions and won all of his aerial duels.
Wenger was delighted with the 23-year-old, who he says is adapting quickly to both English football and the lifestyle after two months at the club.
“It was a very positive performance because he structured our team very well,” the manager said. “He looks to be an intelligent player who moves the ball very quickly, finds his partners and plays forward.
“It was a very convincing performance for a first time [in the Premier League].
“I believe mentally he has integrated very well into the team, he is very keen and very humble. He has a great desire to learn, so everybody in the squad likes him and he is a positive surprise on that front as well.”
After last month’s goalless draw with Hull City, Wenger bemoaned his side’s lack of focus after they dominated the game, had close to 70 per cent possession, took 24 shots at goal but still failed to score.
With Arsenal going for the title and the Tigers chasing promotion, a replay did not suit either side - but the visitors’ organisation and tendency to get men behind the ball made it difficult for the Gunners.
|Arsenal have won each of their last five visits to Hull in all competitions, scoring at least twice on each occasion
Alexis has scored five goals in six starts in the FA Cup. His first goal in the competition was scored against Hull City in January 2015
Hull have won their last three home FA Cup games. They also won the only previous FA Cup meeting between these sides in Hull, though this was back in 1908
Steve Bruce’s side will have more of an onus on them to attack in front of their own fans at the KC Stadium, and despite a raft of home changes being predicted once again, Wenger expects another big test.
“On the day [at the Emirates] they rotated a lot and played in a very defensive style,” he said. “I thought at the time both teams did not want a replay, but Hull played in a very conservative way and we did not manage to find an opening. Their keeper had a great game as well.
“Overall they were very well organised and you discovered that a team like Hull in the Championship have a very big squad, because they changed 10 players and still had a very competitive team, so you have to give them credit for that.
“You know when you go to Hull that you get a committed game. They are a team doing well in the Championship, although it has recently become tighter at the top [of the table] so they have their worries as well. But when you go into a game of that stature, it is always very intense.
“We have to put the same intensity and desire into the game as we had at Tottenham. It will be down to us.”