By Rob Kelly
“The vibes coming out of the team are very positive and all this together makes you happy when you are the manager.” - Arsene Wenger
There are results, and then there are results that mean that bit more.
Last week’s dismantling of Liverpool certainly falls into the latter category, representing the sort of landmark performance that can turn a team from challengers to genuine contenders.
Having cleared a psychological hurdle in winning at both Manchester City and Manchester United in recent months, another ruthless display of power and precision saw off a visiting side that had not conceded a goal in more than nine hours on the road.
The confidence gleaned from Arsenal's 4-1 win was reinforced by their ascent to second in the table, but Arsene Wenger remains cautious. He has been here before, and knows what is required to make the next step.
“It is a positive sign for us [to go second], but let’s not get carried away because you look behind us and it’s one or two points,” he told Arsenal Player. "That can quickly be wiped out by a bad game. That’s why we want to continue our run, to continue to play quality games and that’s the best way to be protected from other teams coming back on us.”
The Liverpool game should act as a blueprint for the future, the Gunners blowing their opponents away in a blur of pass and move. Even more pleasing for the manager was the sight of four different names on the scoresheet - a clear indicator of a squad in rude health.
“It is the best possible sign, because it means that everybody is full of confidence, the combination play of the team goes well and that there is a collective desire to play together,” he said. “That’s the essence of our sport: to play together and get everybody in positions where they can score.
“The vibes coming out of the team are very positive and all this together makes you happy when you are the manager.”
After such a compelling performance, Wenger must decide whether to stick or twist for the trip to Turf Moor.
"He’s very ambitious and passionately loves football. That’s the best guarantee for me. If you love it, you always want to be better"
Having come through Tuesday night’s under-21 game against Stoke City unscathed, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby are all available. The manager has suggested Mathieu Debuchy remains short of a “competitive edge”, although Wojciech Szczesny should be back in contention.
Laurent Koscielny will have a scan on his thigh to determine his involvement, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only member of the first-team squad definitely ruled out.
It is an enviable position to be in at this point of the season, while the form of even the youngest members of the squad offers further reason for optimism. Hector Bellerin’s continued development is emblematic of a multi-talented squad very much on the rise.
“The speed of his development has not only surprised me, but also convinced me,” Wenger said. “Slowly in training he has emerged as a powerful defender, as somebody who has personality as well and is not scared to be available.
“He has good indications that he’s an intelligent player. He’s very ambitious and passionately loves football. That’s the best guarantee for me. If you love it, you always want to be better, to play better. I’m convinced that is in him.
“The fact that he scored in such a big game like Liverpool shows that he has the personality to impose himself in these situations. That is quite positive.”
Having seen his side rise to the occasion against one of the country’s most in-form sides, Wenger now must steel them for a very different challenge.
"They have improved since the start of the season because they had to adapt to the Premier League and it took them a while. Now they look a very, very good team against everybody"
The town of Burnley has a population less than the capacity of Old Trafford, but their team have punched well above their weight. In the past month, Sean Dyche’s men have beaten champions Manchester City at Turf Moor, drawn 1-1 at champions-elect Chelsea and held Tottenham.
Perhaps even more impressively, they have done so while selecting an almost unchanged starting XI over the course of the season. Burnley may be in the relegation zone, but Wenger expects another searching examination of his side’s credentials on Saturday evening.
“It’s just as hard [as Liverpool],” he said. “Different propositions maybe, maybe we’ll be a bit more cautious defensively, but it is a team who goes forward as well. They play in an offensive style, direct but very efficient. They have some good young players like Trippier and Ings and they are quite dangerous in the final third.
“They have improved since the start of the season because they had to adapt to the Premier League and it took them a while. Now they look a very, very good team against everybody.
“If you look at their results against the top teams like Manchester City and Chelsea, they have done extremely well. On top of that, they’ve taken 18 out of [their total of] 26 points at home. That means that for us the challenge is big and we want to be at our best because I’m convinced that this is a difficult game.”
After 31 games, Arsenal are sitting pretty in second place on 63 points - exactly the same total as they had at the same stage last year.
That stat has prompted questions about their progression, yet Wenger is convinced his side have made significant strides forward this term - and he is sure this will continue at Turf Moor.
“I feel there is a progression,” he said. “I believe as well that last year, the initial run in the first half of the season was very positive, and the second part of the season was a bit more negative. This season, I feel that we started slowly and progressively since January I believe that the team is getting stronger.
“For us, the challenge is how long we can maintain that. Of course now there’s not a long distance to go until the end of the season. That’s why we want to keep that and focus in every single game just to continue that level of performance.
“You learn from defeat but you can learn from victory as well by giving the players things to improve after the win, how high we can go to push ourselves to be as good as we can be and to ripen out the mistakes we made even in games like the one against Liverpool.
“We want to come back and play even stronger. That consistent and permanent desire to become better as an individual player but also as a team is what you want to rely on.”
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