By Richard Clarke
For Arsène Wenger, talk is cheapening an increasingly intriguing season.
On Friday lunchtime the Arsenal manager withstood a Barcelona barrage at his usual press conference.
It was entirely expected. An hour or so earlier the pair had been pitched together in a mouthwatering Champions League Quarter-Final tie.
The recipe was simple.
- Throw in Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, the 2006 Final.
- Stir them well for 30 minutes.
- Then serve with relish.
The manager, however, was left suffering from indigestion.
He wanted to discuss the game, not the issues or individuals surrounding it. He constantly confirmed his concentration was simply the next game. And that is hardly insignificant.
Arsenal will be top of the table on Saturday night if they beat West Ham at Emirates Stadium. With Manchester United and Chelsea both having tricky fixtures the following day, the Londoners might just have a sniff of staying there beyond the weekend.
For Wenger this was undoubtedly the main event. To others, it was merely a sideshow to the pre-Barca circus.
“For me football is not a personal game, it’s a team game,” he said when asked again about the Quarter-Final. “It was like that the other day with Chelsea and Inter. You get fed up with all these stories. Let’s just see a football game.
“It bothers me because it is a dictatorship to tell people what is important. And, for me, what you tell them is important is not important. It is football that is important.
“For example the beautiful moment in the Chelsea v Inter game was the control of Sneijder, the second touch, the fact that he sees Eto’o and that Eto’o makes his first touch perfectly. That is really difficult to do in football.
“Nobody talks about that, it was all about this other fuss. I get fed up because it’s not football. What is beautiful in this game was the goal Inter scored. All the rest is rubbish.
“What matters is that people who turn up and pay £50 to watch a football game see a good game. What matters really is that you give something to people who pay.”
With just eight games left and Arsenal going for the title, a sterile, scrappy 1-0 against West Ham would be worth every penny. Wenger has Cesc Fabregas (hamstring), Tomas Rosicky (groin) and Alex Song (suspension) available again.
That means, with the notable exception of Aaron Ramsey (broken leg), his midfield is at full strength. There is greater concern about William Gallas, whose ongoing calf injury has already ruled him out of this game, next Saturday’s trip to Birmingham and, in all probability, the first game against Barcelona. Johan Djourou has only a miniscule chance of contributing at all this season so Wenger will rotate Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre in his absence.
West Ham arrive two places and three points above the relegation zone. Despite a talented squad, they have been around that area all season.
“The Premier League is very difficult,” said Wenger. “Nobody can be surprised by what happens to any team, because it is unpredictable and is so difficult for everybody. But it can happen that when confidence drops, you lose unexpected points.
“I have a lot of sympathy for Gianfranco Zola, because I like him very much as a person, but my target is to win the game. For him, it will be exactly the same problem - they will try to win, we will try to win.”
West Ham’s two-goal comeback to grab a draw at Upton Park in October is still one of Wenger’s lowlights of the campaign. However, back at Fort Emirates, he knows there can be no slip-ups anymore.
Arsenal’s title credentials are becoming more concrete by the week; dropping points on Saturday would open up a massive crack in that belief. Especially as Wenger’s men are, for once, playing first and therefore in position to put pressure on the others.
“It is a big weekend,” admitted the manager. “This situation has happened to us and until now we have always responded well. Every time we took advantage. Last weekend, it was quite difficult for us. Now it is important, at home, there is no other issue for us than three points in every single game.
“Even away games it is like that but at home we know we cannot drop any points so it’s important that we turn up with a top-class performance.”
If that happens then, leaders Arsenal can look down on Manchester United and Chelsea, who play their catch-up games the following day, and say ‘follow that’.
The Reds entertain in-form Liverpool and the Blues go to Blackburn who lose rarely at Ewood Park. After their Champions League exit, the latter will be under more scrutiny.
“Yes they will,” said Wenger. “But Chelsea have a little bit of leeway which we don’t have.
“They have also had a bit of luck – five days to recover. So it is not ‘boom, boom’.
“But anyway we can only put pressure on Chelsea by winning our games, they are still three points ahead of us.
“For us, we know the situation we are in is to win our next game. So our action is simple.
“Do not speak too much, shut up and win.”
Well said, Arsène.
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