By Rob Kelly
“We are on a good run and on the night everything went against us. Were we responsible for it? Certainly for a part of it but I believe overall the good run has to be dominant and we have come back in a great position in the league and we want to stabilise that position.” - Arsene Wenger
THE SET UP
It has been a difficult few days at London Colney in the wake of Wednesday night’s draining defeat to Monaco.
Following a run of 15 wins in their previous 19 matches, the Gunners went into their Champions League last-16 first leg on something of a high. Some 94 minutes later, the outlook was suddenly bleaker.
These are the fine margins involved in elite football. Perceptions shift from day to day and the job of the manager is to remain on an even keel, retain perspective and wring the most out of his multi-talented squad.
The post-match inquest may not have been pretty, but the task now is to prevent Wednesday's defeat - no matter how harrowing - from bleeding into the rest of the season. There is still much to play for, and so much that could be achieved - and Arsenal will be measured by their response.
“All the circumstances went against us against Monaco,” Arsene Wenger told Arsenal Player. “We lost our heads a little bit when things went against us. We lost patience too quickly, we lost security too quickly and we lost discipline too quickly.
“When things go [wrong] everybody wants to put it right but then you lose the team discipline. We knew before the game that this was a [tie] which lasts 180 minutes and if it goes wrong in a part of it, you still have to keep your discipline and that’s where it went wrong.
“We will analyse it in an objective way and respond as a team. The only way for success is to respond to disappointment as a team, work for each other and fight for each other in the next game. We are not out of it - people forget that. We have to play well in the next game.”
In his pre-match press conference on Friday morning, the manager revealed that there would “certainly” be changes for the visit of Everton.
The match will come too soon for Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini (both hamstring), although both are days away from a return to full training. Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy remain sidelined.
"He had a night where he missed chances and that can happen to any striker - every world-class striker has had that"
The question marks surround whether Wenger feels the need to freshen up his team in attack, with the likes of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available and chomping at the bit.
Then there's Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman experienced a difficult night against Monaco but, after a run of eight goals in 12 games, it would be churlish to suggest he should be dropped on the back of one display.
“Olivier has done well until now,” Wenger said. “He had a night where he missed chances and that can happen to any striker - every world-class striker has had that.
“I didn’t take him off to punish him - I just took him off because I felt that on the night, when you have three, four or five [opportunities], you always have less chances to be successful and you want to give a different problem to the defence as well. It was not a punishment, it can happen. I understand that completely.”
Everton arrive in north London in the midst of a challenging campaign, having been unable to replicate last season’s dazzling form in finishing fifth.
Roberto Martinez’s side have struggled for defensive balance and, having conceded 39 times last term, they find themselves on 37 already this season with 12 games remaining.
"They are a team who has quality, who play good football and are a threat to everybody"
However, Arsenal have not won any of their previous five meetings with Everton, and the Merseysiders come into Sunday's game in confident mood after advancing in the Europa League.
And in Romelu Lukaku - the target of some harsh criticism thus season - Everton have a wrecking ball of a striker who has found form to score five goals in his last three games.
“There’s no obvious reason [why Everton have struggled in the Premier League],” Wenger said. “They have a similar personnel and they were in a strong position last season until four or five games before the end.
“They are a team who has quality, who play good football and are a threat to everybody. They lost 1-0 at Chelsea but they could as well have won the game.”
If the sign of a good team is how they deal with adversity, then history is on Arsenal’s side. Whenever they have experienced rough patches, they have responded strongly - and that is required once more.
The defeat to Monaco may have been scarring, but the overall picture remains positive. Arsenal are third in the Premier League after a fine start to 2015, into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and, while they are up against it in the Champions League, they are not dead yet.
It is a situation that can be remedied, and Wenger is confident that his squad has the hunger, the tenacity and the quality to ensure that Wednesday night was no more than a blip.
“We are on a good run and on the night everything went against us,” he said. “Were we responsible for it? Certainly for a part of it but I believe overall the good run has to be dominant and we have come back in a great position in the league and we want to stabilise that position.
“We know that our home form in the league will be very important to decide that. Let’s take this opportunity to make our position even stronger.”
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