By Rob Kelly
“We are used to being questioned and it is normal. We have to be strong enough to deal with it and show on Monday night that we can deal with that kind of [disappointing] result.” - Arsene Wenger
If there was a positive to be gleaned from Arsenal’s heavy Boxing Day defeat to Southampton, it was that the chance to make amends would arrive less than 48 hours later.
This, after all, is a season in which momentum and stability has evaded all. It seems that every side will slip up, but it is how they all respond that will mark out the best from the rest.
And if there is a core strength to this Arsenal side, it is its ability to fight back in times of adversity. They may have passed up the chance to go top of the table on Saturday, but Arsene Wenger is convinced they will answer their critics when Bournemouth arrive at Emirates Stadium.
“We are used to being questioned and it is normal in the game,” the manager said. “We have to be strong enough to deal with it and show on Monday night that we can deal with that kind of [disappointing] result.
|Bournemouth: King (hamstring), Tomlin (groin), Atsu (calf), Wilson (knee), Elphick (ankle), Mings (knee), Gradel (knee)
Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Coquelin (knee), Arteta (ankle), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring)
“At this period in the season I don’t see too much importance in [the psychological aspect of missing the chance to go top]. What is important for me is that we show quality in our performances and show consistency - we will focus on that. I don’t think we were at our level [at Southampton] and for me that is more disappointing than not going above Leicester.”
There may be tired legs and tired minds among the Arsenal squad amid a punishing festive schedule, but Wenger insists there is an innate desire within the group to fight for one another that will serve them well.
“I think the team has found togetherness, a desire to share values that are important in our game,” he said. “Therefore, the fact that you feel that the player next to you is ready to work for the team encourages you to do it as well.
“It has a positive snowball effect that we have in the squad at the moment. But I’m experienced enough to know that it is fragile. We have to take care of that and that’s my responsibility and the responsibility of the players and staff around me as well - to make sure that we maintain this attitude and spirit.”
That unity will certainly be tested to the fore by a buoyant Bournemouth on Monday evening.
ONE TO WATCH
In the wake of a shock defeat, the natural inclination of some is to demand changes to the team.
When that reverse comes in the middle of a demanding schedule in which the squad is stretched to its limits, that desire among the fanbase can become deafening.
But a manager as experienced as Wenger knows that change does not always equate to success - and he has stressed the benefits of stability.
“When you lose a game, [the media] say: 'Why don’t you change?' - but when you lose and you have changed, they then say, 'Why did you change a side that has won in a convincing way?'” he said.
“Why do I use this team? Firstly because they win, and secondly because 80 per cent of the players that play are not overloaded with games and look well.
“If you look at the number of games Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Joel Campbell played since the start of the season… even Olivier Giroud for a long while didn’t play games and Theo Walcott also has just come back.
“These players are not overloaded with games. It is not like they have played 25 games.”
For a while, things were looking pretty bleak for Bournemouth. After the ecstasy of their first-ever promotion to the top flight had waned, the reality of life in the Premier League began to bite.
|The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 21 Premier League meetings with newly-promoted opposition (W17 D4)
Bournemouth will become Arsenal's 80th different opponent in league football in this match
Arsenal have scored in each of their last 29 Premier League games against newly-promoted opposition
A nightmare run of nine games, six defeats and three draws saw many dismiss them as relegation certainties. The obituaries had been written, and the fun was over - or so we thought.
Eddie Howe, one of the brightest English managerial prospects around, restructured his team and secured an historic victory at champions Chelsea. That was followed by a memorable win against Manchester United, while West Brom were beaten before Saturday’s goalless draw with Crystal Palace.
It has been quite a resurgence, and Wenger has been impressed with both the style and the substance Bournemouth have shown of late.
“They’ve done extremely well,” he said. “I think for a long time they had not been paid back for the quality of the performances they put in.
“You could see there’s something there because they dominated matches in the Premier League with the quality of their game.
“They did not have that clinical finishing and that lost them games sometimes. I always said that Bournemouth will stay in the league because they have the basics to stay in the Premier League."
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