By Chris Harris
"Every game is a big challenge. First of all, because it’s very tight at the top, but also because of the quality of the teams you face. You always need to be at your best."
Pure football. One week you're talking about beating the best team in the world, the next you're counting the cost of a defeat to a lower-league side.
That's part of the beauty of the beautiful game - its unpredictability, its peaks and troughs. But while Arsene Wenger can just about accept going out of the Capital One Cup at Sheffield Wednesday, he could have done without the twist of fate that left Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the injury list.
In the short-term, the Arsenal manager has a void to fill on the right flank, and opportunity could knock for Joel Campbell or Alex Iwobi at Swansea City on Saturday.
As for the bigger picture, Wenger is confident that Tuesday's setback will be an isolated moment rather than a turning point. Not least because most of his first-team players weren't involved at Hillsborough.
"It’s a different team," Wenger told Arsenal Player. "What we want to focus on is the Premier League and I’ve said that many times. The Premier League team did not play on Tuesday night.
|Swansea City: Routledge (calf) Arsenal: Walcott (calf), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring), Ramsey (hamstring), Ospina (shoulder), Arteta (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Welbeck (knee), Rosicky (knee)|
"It’s disappointing to lose two players and in a short period of time as well. One was linked with the other one because Theo would not have come on if Oxlade-Chamberlain was not injured. We have to cope with that but I think we have the strength in the squad to cope with it, even if it’s a blow.
"Apart from that we are on a very strong, positive run in the Premier League and we want to continue to grow and develop our position in the league. We know there’s a big game in front of us at Swansea, where it’s always difficult. Everybody likes the challenge to do well."
Wenger often says you need 10 games to decipher the trends and patterns of a new top-flight season. With the top four separated by two points, it's fair to assume we won't be watching a one-horse race for the title.
"It is very tight," said Wenger. "That’s why every game is a big challenge. First of all, because it’s very tight at the top, but also because of the quality of the teams you face. You always need to be at your best.
"At the moment what you see in every season is teams you expect to be there at the top are there. One or two surprising teams are also always at the top every year after 10 games. This year the surprise packages are Leicester and Crystal Palace. I expected Crystal Palace to fight up there but Leicester were less expected. They have continued their run from the end of last season."
As ever, consistency will be rewarded and, in Premier League terms, no team is more consistent than Arsenal right now.
"Everton was a very important game for us on that front," noted Wenger, "because after the Bayern game, to be straight away capable of winning a big game, shows that the team is focused, resolute and has the capability of keeping the concentration at a high level. That makes me quite optimistic."
ONE TO WATCH
Goalscorers and playmakers catch the eye, and Arsenal have more than their fair share. But for all the garlands received by Mesut Ozil, Alexis, Santi Cazorla and their ilk, so much of the Gunners' recent success is built on the bedrock of Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield.
His meteoric rise has been well-documented but, despite a revelatory six months last season, Coquelin still had plenty to prove as he embarked upon his first full campaign as a regular. According to Wenger, a combination of experience, intelligence and self-belief is keeping the 24-year-old on an upward curve.
"He continues to improve defensively in his positional play and also offensively, you can see he has more confidence," said the manager.
"His passing is quick and sharp, his decision-making is quick and he gets out of tight situations well. That is very important in the middle of the park. He’s also more available and [available] more quickly when our defenders have the ball. He blossoms well.
"When you’re a footballer you need to feel the confidence around you but after that I would say the main progress is decided by the player. Why? Because through his intelligence, he analyses what happened to him during the game and if he makes mistakes his intelligence helps him to analyse the situation and not repeat the same mistake in the next game by finding a solution.
"I would say to do that you need confidence, but the main progress is decided by the player."
Arsenal usually score twice at the Liberty Stadium - they've done that four times in five visits - but clean sheets have been hard to come by.
|Swansea are unbeaten in their last three Premier League meetings with Arsenal (W2 D1), after losing three of the five before that (W2) The Gunners have scored on each of their four Premier League visits to Liberty Stadium (W2 L2) Arsenal have scored 1999 goals in all competitions under Arsene Wenger|
A glance at Swansea's attacking potential suggests that the Gunners' defence will have its work cut out again on Saturday.
Jefferson Montero - such an influential player in last season's corresponding game - will give Hector Bellerin a serious examination. And while Bafetimbi Gomis' goals have dried up, the likes of Andre Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson are in ominous form.
"I like the fact that Swansea always try to play football," said Wenger. "They have a tradition of trying to be positive with their game. The fact that in such a small city, who for such a long time did not play in the Premier League, they have remained in the league and have found stability. They always make intelligent decisions so all these three things together are absolutely fantastic.
"They play a positive style and they always have a very good offensive potential. This season it’s the same. They have Montero and Gomis, and they bought well with Andre Ayew. They also have Sigurdsson and Shelvey who are good going forward, which is why they can create good chances.
"We will need a strong defensive performance."
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