We face Southampton in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup on Wednesday night and ahead of the game, Chris Harris sat down to talk to the boss about it...
"I think to be at a big club you need a certain mental stature, and I believe he has it." - Arsene Wenger on Kieran Gibbs
Mesut Ozil to Olivier Giroud. Giroud to Alexis. Alexis to the back of the net. And relax.
For 67 minutes it was hard to tell if Sunday’s game against Bournemouth would go our way. But that slick stoppage-time combination was the football equivalent of a pressure relief valve.
It finally finished off Bournemouth, averted the threat of four straight draws and kept the Premier League leaders within touching distance while opening up a significant gap on Tottenham and Manchester United. A day of uncertainty - but a happy ending.
Arsene Wenger was caught up in the anxiety as much as any fan, so much so that he needed a second viewing to appreciate how well we played.
“The late goal released some tension,” he told Arsenal.com. “Suddenly when we only make draws, it gets a little bit in the head of the players. For us, I think it was an important step to win against Bournemouth, and having watched the game again, I think we played better than I thought straight after the game.
“That’s because the tension is there during a game - you absolutely want to win - so the emotional impact is a bit bigger than when you watch with a cooler head.
|Arsenal: Debuchy (hamstring), Giroud (groin), Bellerin (ankle), Cazorla (Achilles), Akpom (back), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee)
Southampton: Boufal, Davis (both illness), Tadic (nose), McCarthy, Target (both hamstring), Pied (knee)
“I think we created chances, we won the ball high up, we won the ball well in the middle of the park as well. We gave them some chances it is true, but the major impact of their chances was basically on set-pieces and we know, since the start of the season, we have been strong on set-pieces.”
Strong on taking chances too. Our last seven shots on target have brought seven goals and, although chances have been harder to come by, the boss is not concerned when they are begging to be taken.
“I believe that the quality of our finishing has been very strong, percentage-wise,” he said. “But if you look, it is linked with the quality of the chances we create as well.
“You think, for example, the first goal from Alexis is a 100 per cent goal chance, even if you can miss. The goal chance of Walcott is a 100 per cent goal chance and the goal of Alexis at the end was a 100 per cent goal chance.
“It’s good that our finishing is fantastic, but I believe for a big part it’s down to the quality of the chances we create because most of these chances are in the box and in very strong positions.”
ONE TO WATCH
Expect changes for the visit of Southampton - “a mixture of youth and experience”, according to the manager. And expect Kieran Gibbs to take the captain’s armband for the third EFL Cup tie in a row.
It doesn’t seem that long since Gibbs was a callow League Cup debutant himself but, now 27, his experience, wisdom and tactical nous has earned him a leadership mantle.
“I think he has quiet leadership qualities,” said Wenger. “He’s a very intelligent player, I rate his intelligence and I rate as well the fact that he has grown up here, that he knows what it is to be at Arsenal, what kind of behaviour is expected from you. I think to be at a big club you need a certain mental stature, and I believe he has it.
“He analyses very well what’s going on on the pitch, he analyses well the team problems. I trusted him two times to be captain and he did this role with perfection.
“At the start it’s not natural for someone quiet to be captain but I think the function creates the quality. Sometimes you discover qualities you don’t necessarily trust yourself to have. But when you’re in a position, when you’re intelligent like he is, you always find a solution.”
The south coast to north London has been a well-trodden path in recent times.
Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers all ended up in the red half, while Tottenham was a stepping stone for Gareth Bale on his journey to Real Madrid.
There are plenty more Premier League stars with Southampton DNA and Wenger describes the Saints as “certainly the most prolific producers of top talent in England in the last 15 years.
“They have not only produced talent, but top talents,” he went on. “We have some examples at our club, but don’t forget they’ve also produced top quality players like Bale and Adam Lallana. They do not only produce quality players, they scout very well too because they scouted players like Mane, Fonte and Cedric.”
Southampton have lost top-class managers as well as players, but Wenger’s friend Claude Puel has continued the good work of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman.
“We talk, of course, but not before the game,” said the boss. “When I was at Monaco he was one of my players. I followed his career and was always ready to talk when he needed me, but he’s now older than 50, has experience in this job.
“I spoke with him before he joined Southampton. After he signed, we became competitors and it’s different. Before he signed, I gave him my impression of the Southampton team and the quality of their players. I’ve always felt that they have a very strong side of very good quality.
“I’m not at all surprised that Puel and Southampton are doing well."
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.