By Chris Harris
“What you try to find is always the right pieces of the jigsaw that work. When it clicks, it is even more positive.” - Arsene Wenger
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Has Arsene Wenger struck gold with his latest Arsenal vintage?
Teams evolve as seasons unfold and, just as Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla’s union laid the foundation for last year’s sprint finish, the emergence of Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny has helped Wenger crack the code this year.
Their inclusion in a mobile yet compact side alongside the trusty Coquelin, the re-energised Alexis and the conductor himself, Mesut Ozil, brought promise in Barcelona and then points against Everton and Watford.
Wenger has made just one change in the last two games - an enforced one at that - and as he prepares his players for Saturday’s demanding trip to West Ham United, the Frenchman is reluctant to tinker with a winning formula.
“What you try to find is always the right pieces of the jigsaw that work,” he told Arsenal Player.
“Sometimes you are forced to make changes and sometimes players move up in training and they make steps and statements that push you to give them a chance. When it clicks, it is even more positive.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (Achilles), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)West Ham United: Byram (muscular), Collins (hamstring)|
“There is an emergence of players that come up and come back from injury. Sometimes, the balance of the whole team clicks and all these players fighting together helps you to find the right blend.
“The continuity of our games against Barcelona and Everton was collectively [very good],” he went on. “We respected those games and we had good possession, great movement and we wanted to score goals. Ideally, we combined offensive efficiency with defensive efficiency in that game. We looked quite solid.
“I think our game is convincing. What we need to show is consistency with the team, and in the last three games I feel our quality was a high level that raises the confidence.
“On top of that, we have players who have just come back like Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, so the competition is there. Petr Cech is back too. In every position, you have competition, and that is very positive.”
ONE TO WATCH
It would be remiss not to mention Arsenal’s defenders for their role in the team’s resurgence. Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny have sown the seeds of a promising relationship at centre back and Nacho Monreal has been as consistent as ever.
Then there’s Hector Bellerin. The 21-year-old has followed up his breakthrough campaign in style to make the right-back spot his own.
Wenger has coached enough players to recognise those who are happy to live with the best - and those who want to be the best. Bellerin, a keen student on the training pitch, is among the latter.
“That’s what strikes me most,” said Wenger. “I’ve been in this job for a long time but there’s something in a young player that you feel when he comes through - this desire that he has to be as good as he can be.
“Sometimes the hunger index drops as soon as they arrive and I’ve always believed that the first and second seasons are very important. You can see how much more the player wants to improve. Sometimes when they arrive at the top level they feel as though they can have a little breather. Those who are the real competitors want to go forward and want to do more. They want to be better and that decides their career.
“He reminds me a little bit of Lauren because Lauren was an offensive player who became a very convincing and very strong defender,” added Wenger. “I believe Hector can go the same way because at the start he was a right-sided midfielder and he has now become a defender.
“I believe he can keep his defensive qualities and, because he wants to improve, with experience he will improve his defensive qualities. He has a similar kind of spirit.”
Bellerin’s biggest challenge may yet come from Carl Jenkinson, who made genuine progress in two seasons on loan at West Ham before a serious knee injury halted him in his tracks.
Wenger still believes in Jenkinson - “he has gained a lot of confidence… I see his future as being a contender for this position at our club…” - but for now the manager’s concern is the present, and the clear and present danger of his final visit to West Ham’s Boleyn Ground.
|West Ham are looking to win both home and away matches against Arsenal in the same league season for the first time since 2006/07Arsenal's defeat to the Hammers (0-2) on opening weekend of the 2015-16 season ended a run of nine consecutive Premier League wins against themCheikhou Kouyate has scored in two of his three Premier League games for West Ham against the Gunners.|
Slaven Bilic’s team are unbeaten in 13 home games and within touching distance of the Champions League places. They would surely have hogged more headlines had Leicester’s fairytale not overshadowed their own.
“They are a strong side and that’s the message they gave us on the first day of the season [when West Ham beat Arsenal 2-0 at Emirates Stadium],” said Wenger.
“They surprised us with their quality, they have 50 points now and that’s not a coincidence. Overall I believe they’ve sacrificed the Europa League a little bit, surprisingly, but that has paid off for them in the Premier League. They have had a very strong season.”
West Ham have bossed most of their London derbies - they have 14 points from seven games compared to Arsenal’s five from six - and in Dimitri Payet the Hammers have a creative force to be reckoned with. Only Chelsea’s Willian has scored more direct free-kicks this season.
“The outstanding player is Payet because he has a remarkable efficiency and is remarkably creative with his assists as well,” said Wenger. “He’s a player who gave them that little bit of extra creativity and made them dangerous in the final third.
“We will pay special attention to him because he’s a typical left-sided player who liked to come inside. He’s not really a wide player, he’s a central midfielder basically. That’s where he always finishes up.
“We have to take care of him, of course, because when he comes into the middle and you give him freedom, he will be very dangerous. As well, his crosses are of top quality. He’s very dangerous on set-pieces, so one of the aspects we have to take care of is the free-kicks.”
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