By Rob Kelly
“We know that in the Premier League it’s about focus, quality and for us, after a very strong run of games, [it’s important] to respond quickly.” - Arsene Wenger
THE SET UP
The immediate aftermath of a north London derby defeat tends to have something of a funereal feel to it, and the past few days have certainly been difficult for those of an Arsenal persuasion.
Losing any match is galling, but losing to your closest rivals cuts deeper than most. In truth, the Gunners could have few complaints about the result at White Hart Lane - but the regrets were writ large across the players’ faces at the full-time whistle.
The post-match inquest will have been a bruising experience, but if there is a silver lining to the dark cloud temporarily hanging over N5 it is that there is an immediate chance to made amends.
For Arsene Wenger, the task is relatively straightforward: assess what went wrong, address the issues and move on. At this critical point of the season there is no time to dwell on defeats, and nothing to be gained from it - all that matters is the next game, and the next game is inevitably just days away.
“Tottenham put us in [a difficult] position by putting us under pressure, and we were reluctant to come out from the back and play a little bit because we were 1-0 up,” the manager told Arsenal Player.
“Maybe we regret that we wanted to protect our goal advantage too much. We put the intensity, the effort, the focus and the commitment in. I feel it’s now [important to] focus on the next one and forget about that.”
While much of the fall-out from Saturday’s defeat has focused on the negative, there were certainly some positives to be gleaned too if you scratch beneath the surface.
Certainly the return of Danny Welbeck after a six-week absence gave cause for optimism, and his energy and pace adds yet more potency to a forward line overflowing with talent.
"Danny finished the game a bit tired but as long he was on the pitch, he put 100 per cent effort in"
The England international immediately made a telling contribution, bursting forward on the right and creating Mesut Ozil’s opener. It was the Gerrmany international’s third goals in three games, and Wenger was pleased to see Ozil and Welbeck contribute.
“That’s one part of Mesut’s game that you want. He looks calm in front of goal and let’s hope he continues that,” the manager said. “Danny was one of the players who produced the effort and really put hard work in. He of course finished the game a bit tired but as long he was on the pitch, he put 100 per cent effort in.”
Welbeck will again push for a starting spot against Leicester, but will have to compete with Alexis after the Chilean recovered from a hamstring problem.
The game will come too soon for Jack Wilshere (ankle) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), but it seems that slowly but surely Arsenal’s big guns are returning at a critical juncture.
In terms of pre-match preparation, it does not get much more confusing - not to say disruptive - than Leicester City’s past few days.
Following a 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday, reports emerged that the club had parted company with manager Nigel Pearson. Hours later, however, a statement confirmed the 51-year-old would remain in charge for this evening’s clash at Emirates Stadium.
Wenger was pleased to hear that Pearson would take his place in the opposition dugout, having seen seven of the last 15 promotion-winning managers fail to see out the following Premier League season.
“They should [be given more time],” he said. “They are a bit the victim of their own success. If they had done very well in the lower division without going up, they would perhaps still be in charge.
“I think to reward them for their success, they should at least be given time. When you give me the stats, they are a bit the stats of all the managers. When you think that the average job expectancy of a manager in all the leagues is 11 months, it shows you that it’s not exceptional.”
Despite the upheaval, Arsenal cannot afford to take Leicester lightly. Striker Leonardo Ulloa was on target in August’s 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium to make it two goals in two games against the Gunners, while the Foxes have caused the biggest teams real problems this term.
A 5-3 victory against Manchester United was the standout result, but their recent FA Cup victory at Tottenham shows that anything less than full focus and total commitment will be punished by a side fighting for Premier League survival.
Leicester’s last visit to Arsenal will live long in the memory, coming as it did on the final day of the 'Invincibles' season when Patrick Vieira’s winner sealed a perfect denouement to the perfect campaign.
This match will be somewhat different, but the stats offer plenty of encouragement for the Gunners. They have won 10 and drawn eight of their previous 18 matches against the Foxes, and have only lost once in their last 29 matches at Emirates Stadium.
"We know that in the Premier League it’s about focus, quality and for us, after a very strong run of games, [it’s important] to respond quickly"
But as Wenger suggests, the Premier League in 2015 is a very different environment to 2004. The financial power of the top flight has made it possible for those in the lower reaches to bridge the gap, with the Foxes breaking their transfer record in January to sign Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric.
If the gap between the top and bottom has shortened, then the margin for error for Arsenal has shrunk too. Wenger accepts that his side will be heavy favourites this evening, and he insists that their attitude must remain consistent if they are to achieve the result they require.
“The quality in the squads is much better, because England is much stronger on the market,” the manager said. “The teams that are down in the Premier League can buy good players from anywhere in Europe. It’s about performance on the day and because the Premier League is tight, the difference between the teams is very small. It’s just about how you turn up on the day.
“We know that in the Premier League it’s about focus, quality and for us, after a very strong run of games, [it’s important] to respond quickly and come back with a strong response on Tuesday night.”
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