By Rob Kelly
“The confidence following a victory like the one against Manchester City increases dramatically. What you want to maintain is the urgency and remember how much a defeat hurts. That balance between confidence and urgency has to be right.” - Arsene Wenger
His side may be coming off the back of a memorable, coruscating victory against Manchester City but Arsene Wenger remains haunted by one particular defeat that he just cannot forget.
“Every loss hurts - and that one has not gone out of my mind,” he tells Arsenal Player of the 2-0 New Year’s Day defeat at Southampton. “It was a bad moment for us but also a turning point because we responded very well and overall, in 2015, we had a very consistent year on the result front.”
The stats bear this out: over the past 12 months, the Gunners have won 78 points, 10 more than their nearest challengers, Manchester City. Now Wenger and his side have the chance to right a wrong when they return to St Mary’s on Boxing Day - and optimism is rife after Monday night’s victory.
|Southampton: Stekelenburg (foot - doubt), Rodriguez (ankle), Gardos (knee), Forster (knee)Arsenal: Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee), Coquelin (knee), Arteta (ankle), Cazorla (knee), Alexis (hamstring)|
“The vibes coming out after the City game are that we are a real team who want to work together, play together and are ready to fight to achieve a result,” the manager said. “I believe you cannot cheat the crowd. The crowd was maybe better than ever but I’ve always said that to get that, the vibes coming from your team need to be absolutely spot on.
“We missed passes, we missed goal chances but you could not fault the attitude of any player at any second. As a unit for 90 minutes, the desire to earn your right to win, the desire to commit completely was the most satisfying [facet] of the night.
“The confidence following a victory like the one against Manchester City of course increases dramatically. What you want to maintain is the urgency and remember how much a defeat hurts.
“You have to take the positives out of a game to believe in your strengths. That balance between confidence and urgency has to be right.”
ONE TO WATCH
Despite his size, Per Mertesacker has the ability to fly under the radar slightly - but nowhere was his importance better underlined than against Manchester City.
At a time when his side needed leadership in the face of ever-increasing waves of blue pressure, the World Cup winner stood tall and marshalled the Arsenal defence superbly.
Mertesacker’s intelligence was crucial in denying Kevin De Bruyne a first-half goal, and his total of 10 clearances was more than any other player on the pitch - while he also won 100 per cent of his in-game duels.
Wenger was delighted with the performance of his vice-captain, and stressed his importance to the team - both on and off the pitch.
“Per had one of his best performances and I want to give him credit because he’s a player who everyday comes in with one desire only, and that is to be better,” the manager said. “The demand from him is to always improve.
“If you look at Per Mertesacker today and compare him to when he arrived, it shows that hard work pays off over a long period. He’s important for the quality of his performances but also important for the stature and focus of the team.
“Centre-back is a position where intelligence is dominant. A centre back is a job for experienced players most of the time, for people who can anticipate what will happen on the pitch, but also for people who can communicate with other players and lead the team.
“They see everybody else in front of them so they can help other players.|
Arsenal need no reminding of the danger that Sadio Mane poses.
|Arsenal have lost just one of their last 11 Premier League games against Southampton (W6 D4 L1)The Gunners have won just one of their last six away league trips to Southampton (W1 D3 L2)Arsenal have only ever lost one Premier League match on Boxing Day (W12 D5 L1)|
The Senegalese flyer, much like his team, may have had a dip in form in recent weeks but he caused huge problems in the corresponding fixture last season.
Blessed with searing pace and quick feet, Mane has the ability to tie defenders in knots and he is expected to start on the right flank on Boxing Day.
However, he can also play as an auxiliary second striker and the each member of the Arsenal backline will have to be on the guard to make sure they do not get exposed one-on-one in a foot race with Mane.
“He’s very dangerous because he can make good runs,” Wenger said. “He’s physically very powerful and he has a good number of chances created and assists. He also has a good balance before scoring and assisting.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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