By Nik Brumsack
“There is no deep damage, we can repair that and it’s time for us to focus on the Premier League, where we are on a good run.” - Arsène Wenger
Wednesday night’s Champions League defeat at Dinamo Zagreb was particularly frustrating given that the result followed an encouraging 2-0 home win over Stoke City - Arsenal’s most complete performance of the season to date.
Despite trailing in Croatia, Arsène Wenger’s side created a series of first-half opportunities before Olivier Giroud was sent off for two bookable offences five minutes before the break. Ultimately the Gunners’ spirited second-half display counted for little, despite Theo Walcott scoring with 10 minutes to play.
|Chelsea: Courtois (knee), Willian (hamstring), Pedro (thigh, doubtful), Falcao (knee, doubtful)
Arsenal: Welbeck, Rosicky (both knee), Wilshere (ankle), Mertesacker (illness, doubt)
“The numbers indicate that the game was not as bad as we thought,” Arsene Wenger told Arsenal Player. “There is no deep damage, we can repair that and it’s time for us to focus on the Premier League, where we are on a good run.”
They certainly are. Wenger’s side have responded well to losing at home to West Ham United on the opening day of the season, taking 10 points from the next 12 and conceding just once in the process.
And so to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea were the only English team to win in the Champions League this week but come into Saturday’s derby having made their worst start to a league season since 1988.
While the 2015/16 campaign is still in its embryonic stages, Jose Mourinho’s side have been questioned by many in the media after winning one of their first five Premier League games. They go into the weekend occupying 17th place in the table, having suffered their first defeat to Arsenal since 2011 in the Community Shield.
“It was an important hurdle for us,” said Wenger, referring to that win at Wembley. “Mentally it’s always important to know that you can beat an opponent. It is important but not enough.
"What will be enough is our performance of the day. I believe that we will be ready, focused and up for it. Of course it’s a big game and you want to win the big games.
“It’s only a good time [to play Chelsea] if we perform and if we play well. We cannot influence too much how Chelsea will play, but we can influence the way we play with our attitude and our focus.”
one to watch
One of the main plus points from Wednesday night was Walcott’s performance after his introduction midway through the second half.
The England international provided Arsenal with a direct outlet in attack and when a chance came his way, he took it convincingly.
Walcott comes into Saturday’s match in fine fettle - he has scored 11 goals in his last 11 Premier League starts and has netted four times in his last three matches for club and country, a run of form that has pleased his manager.
“At the moment I share a bit between Giroud and Walcott because we have so many games, so it’s difficult to absorb for one player,” Wenger said. “I believe he enjoys it and he shows as well that when he scores goals, he’s calm in front of goal. That’s an important quality.
“Our team performance has to be right defensively and offensively but what is good to know is that Walcott can be at the end of good movements and of good quality.”
|Theo Walcott has scored 11 goals in his last 11 Premier League starts for Arsenal
Arsenal have had the most shots in the Premier League this season (39), while Chelsea have allowed their opponents the most (38)
Petr Cech has kept three successive Premier League clean sheets and is only four behind David James’ all-time record of 169
Arsenal have won seven and lost none of their last eight Premier League away games
Whoever Wenger selects up front on Saturday lunchtime is likely to face Kurt Zouma. Used sparingly during much of his first season-and-a-half in London, the Lyon-born defender has featured in each of Chelsea’s Premier League games this season, starting the last three.
Also capable of operating in defensive midfield, Zouma appears to have all the ingredients to forge a successful career in either position.
Commanding in the air, quick across the ground and composed when in possession, the 20-year-old made his international debut in March and is a player who Wenger believes will have a big future.
“I’ve known him since he came from a very small club to Saint-Etienne,” the Arsenal manager said. “He has a good mentality, he is strong physically and he has a very good leap as well.
“He’s highly focused and is the kind of personality who will always improve."
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