An exclusive Wenger interview, classic goals, team news and a poll. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of our Premier League clash with Sunderland.
A SPRINT FINISH
Arsene Wenger must have enjoyed his customary re-run of our last game. Patience, intelligence, desire, confidence… it was all there in spades as Stoke City - so often a thorn in our side - were this time brushed aside.
OP = Outfield Players
We’ve had hiccups on the road but our away campaign ended on a free-flowing high with another endorsement of the team’s refined formation.
Six wins in seven is a powerful advert for 3-4-3 and it gave us the defensive security we’ve occasionally lacked in the Potteries.
But will this sprint finish be enough for a top-four finish?
The boss was a West Ham fan on Sunday but it didn’t help as Liverpool won 4-0 to leave themselves and Manchester City in the driving seat for the final two Champions League spots. Now we need to root for West Brom, Watford and Middlesbrough in the hope that our rivals slip up.
“I will [cheering them on], but let’s us do our job,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“We can make three points on Tuesday night, we can get to 72 points, and after we have another home game. Let’s do the job. The most important part is down to us.
“I’m convinced that if we get to the total of 75, we still have a good chance to be in there. At the end of the day, we can only have an influence on our own performances. Goal difference is in my mind too, because it can have an impact.”
THE ALEXIS-OZIL AXIS
The darting run, the perfectly-weighted eye-of-a-needle pass, the deft first touch, the composed clip over the keeper… our second goal at Stoke was a thing of beauty.
Fashioned by Alexis, finished by Mesut Ozil, it summed up the understanding that has made that combination the second most potent in the Premier League this season.
“It says a lot about their quality, first of all,” said the boss. “Football is a little bit about having one provider and one finisher. Usually, Ozil is the provider and Alexis is the finisher. Because they are very good football players, they can reverse these roles as well.
“There’s a good understanding that they have developed because they'vee now played three years together and you could see that understanding, that desire to play together, and sometimes just guess where their partner will be.
“All the big teams have stability on the technical area, and that’s why I believe the longer they play together, the more players develop connections. That makes them give the right response in situations where they don’t have a lot of time.”
OZIL MAKES THE ADJUSTMENT
The shift to 3-4-3 has meant a shift in position for Ozil, but Saturday’s win showed that he’s made the adjustment.
|Arsenal: Koscielny (calf - doubt), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring), Cazorla (plantaris)
Sunderland: Anichebe (hamstring - doubt), Denayer (thigh - doubt), Honeyman (back), Pienaar (ankle), Cattermole (Achilles), Kirchhoff, Watmore, McNair (all knee)
“Before he was a bit more central,” explained Wenger. “He’s more often now on the flanks, but still has the freedom to move.
“I think he plays a bit more on the right but his ball coming inside on his left foot can be deadly. We have seen a few examples.
"He delivered fantastic passes, so overall I think both of them enjoy it - Alexis and Ozil. Both look to blossom in this position and get stronger every week.
“Their combination for Mesut’s goal was exquisite because it’s a very small space to play the ball through.
"Mesut has a very good record on assists and not such a great record in scoring goals, so I’m very pleased that he could be on the other end to finish.”
THE RISE OF ROB HOLDING
Further back, Rob Holding goes from strength to strength.
You know you’ve arrived when the fans start singing your name, especially when that song likens you to Fabio Cannavaro.
Wenger wouldn’t dream of doing the same - not yet anyway - but he’s glad the fans can see Holding’s promise.
“The fans are always speedy but they know football and they can understand very quickly if the potential of a player is there,” he said.
“From the potential to becoming a top star is a long way to go, and that is based on motivation, intelligence and desire, but I’m sure that Rob has the positive ingredients for that.
“He’s good in the air, calm on the ball, has a good reading of the game and I think he’s a very complete centre back who will have a good mixture of being a good defender and also very good on the ball.
“He still has to gain experience and the central role is a bit more of a decisive one, so I use him a bit more on the flank. He’s a very interesting prospect.”
More polls and quizzes coming soon...
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