By Rob Kelly
“When you have so many injuries and you go out there and play the way we did, it tells you a lot about the quality of the players that came in. It shows you as well that it was right to believe in these players.” - Arsene Wenger
There are certain landmark performances over the course of a season that can help define the success or failure of a campaign.
If last season’s was the victory at Manchester City that precipitated a stunning run of form during the second half of the season, then the hope is that Wednesday night’s win at Olympiacos will do the same.
Of course, that will all mean nothing if they do not follow it up with a victory at Aston Villa on Sunday - but Arsene Wenger says he learnt a lot about his squad during a “perfect” performance in Piraeus.
“We have been many times questioned about the depth of our squad,” he told Arsenal Player. “When you have so many injuries and you go out there and play the way we did, it tells you a lot about the quality of the players that came in. It shows you as well that it was right to believe in these players.
|Aston Villa: Bacuna (knock - doubt), Gestede (knee - doubt), Sanchez (eye - doubt), Richards (knee), Amavi (knee), Gardner (ankle)
Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Coquelin (knee), Arteta (ankle), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring)
“We talk about players like Flamini but as well Campbell, players who suddenly reveal that they have talent. We have some more. We have some young players with top talent behind. We do not want to kill the opportunity for these players to come into the squad.
“I believe the result will strengthen the belief of our team, that we have an interesting part to play in this competition. You have to consider that after our defeat at home against Olympiacos, to go through we had to beat Bayern at home, who had basically not lost a game.
“It was highly unlikely that we would qualify for the 16th [straight] time from the group stages. Then we did beat Bayern and had to go to Olympiacos and to win the way we did was very unlikely, and of course it was a relief for the squad.”
ONE TO WATCH
While it may have been a perfect team performance in Athens, Olivier Giroud quite rightly dominated the headlines after scoring the first hat-trick of his career.
It was a sensational display from the striker, who now has 10 goals in his last 12 games - and he will look forward to facing Villa with a record of four in four games against them.
Wenger is delighted with the striker's form - and hopes he can add more consistency to his game now as we enter the crucial festive period.
“This season, I would say yes [that was his best performance], because his overall performance was good, his technical quality, his link play,” the manager said.
“For him it was a perfect night and on top of that, he scored a very important penalty, because that killed the game.
“My main concern is that he shows that he has the quality and the consistency [now]. Olivier had periods, I think especially at the end of last season, where he couldn’t score. Then he lost his confidence a little bit.
“This season, he didn’t start. He benefits from two things now. First, he had a rest for a good period of the season. Secondly, when Olivier is confronted with difficult moments, he responds in a very positive way. He worked even harder and I think that made him stronger.”
For all of Aston Villa’s problems in front of goal - they are the joint lowest scorers in the Premier League this season - they have plenty of players who could cause real damage on Sunday.
Their main attacking threat is likely to be Rudy Gestede, the 6ft4in Benin international striker whose power and aerial presence has already caused a stir so far this term.
|Arsenal have lost none of their last 16 Premier League visits to Villa Park (W9 D7)
Aston Villa have earned more points away from home against Arsenal (20) than they have at home (18) in the Premier League era
Mesut Ozil has both scored and assisted in his last two Premier League appearances against Aston Villa
Gestede was almost unplayable in Villa’s 3-2 defeat at Liverpool in September, scoring twice and bullying his way through the home defence at will.
It promises to be a big test for the Gunners’ backline, but Wenger says the forward - who is carrying a knock - will not be the only threat they face.
“They have Sinclair, they have Jordan Ayew, who can score goals like Gestede. They are a complete team,” the manager said.
“Vertout plays quite well, Gueye plays. They have young prospects like Grealish. I think there is a good basis for Remi Garde to work on and to stabilise the team.
“For us, after Wednesday night, it’s important that we straight away have a focus. I’m highly focused on the Premier League and I want us to manage to go from one competition to the other. That’s a sign of maturity as well.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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