By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger admits he has been forced to put his ‘flair-play’ campaign on hold for now.
The Arsenal manager has long been the curator of the Premier League’s most enchanting exhibitors of the beautiful game. But with a midfield shorn of Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky for some months to come, Wenger accepts his fifth-place side must now start to close the 10-point gap on leaders Liverpool by the sweat of their brow.
“Recently I believe we have been more workmanlike than creative or sparky,” he said at Friday’s press conference. “But that will come back with the quality we have.
“We had one or two disappointments early this season and needed first to come back to grind out some results, then we can come back to the rest of our game later.
“Of course, we would like it to return now but I believe Walcott will come back, Rosicky I don't know when he will come back while Fabregas will come back in March hopefully. So yes at the moment we have lost something on the creative side of the game.
“But we are in a good way right now and have created a momentum. It is down to us to show consistency, we want to be super-consistent because in top-level sport you always have a chance if you can show you can improve.
“I admit we were not consistent at the start of the season but in the last six weeks this team are different animals and are really ready to have a go. That is what is our target - to show we can be consistent.”
As Wenger implies, injuries have been a problem all season. Rosicky and Eduardo have yet to feature at all, Fabregas and Walcott have been lost for the medium term while, this week, William Gallas (hamstring) and Mikael Silvestre (thigh) have picked up problems that might sideline them for the next three weeks. At least Denilson (back) and Kolo Toure (groin) have recovered.
Perhaps the acceptance of this industrious policy has been prompted by the visit of Bolton on Saturday. The Sam Allardyce version hustled and muscled their way to some fractious, costly victories a few years ago. Gary Megson’s tenure has knocked off a few of the rougher edges but if the mountainous Kevin Davies is still up front the overall tactic can not have changed that much. Wenger believes the re-modelled Arsenal can cope.
“What people forget is that Bolton always has good players,” he said. “If you look at the players who played there in the last 10 years, you will find some very good ones.
“It’s always a tricky tie. They are a strong team, well-organised and they play in a very committed way - that’s why for us the focus will be very important. I am confident we will have great focus and be ready for the game.
“I believe that overall we have improved in the domains where we were a bit less convincing. That means in the air and on the set-pieces.
“We feel much stronger today defensively than we did three months ago. For us it is to find a good balance between playing the football we love, the attractive game we love, and being efficient defensively. I believe we are on a good way and 2009 will show that.”
Wenger knows this weekend is an opportunity for his side. Bolton have lost five of their last six games while Arsenal are unbeaten in their past half-dozen. Fourth-place Aston Villa have a derby game against in-form West Brom on Saturday lunchtime while, on Sunday, Manchester United are hosting Chelsea. It guarantees that one title rival will drop points. Fingers crossed it will be two.
“A positive result would be for us to win our game,” the Arsenal manager concluded.
“As for the rest [Man United v Chelsea] is an opportunity to get closer to one of the two and if possible, two of the two. The draw would be the best result for us.
“But first we have to win our game.”
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