We return to Premier League action on Sunday, when Burnley visit Emirates Stadium - ahead of the game, Rob Kelly sat down with Arsène Wenger to discuss the weekend's fixture
“I’m a manager who likes to go forward but we have to find that balance between offense and defence, and that’s maybe where the future of this season lies.” - Arsene Wenger
THE PREMIER LEAGUE ‘MOMENT OF TRUTH’?
There was a telling moment in Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference on Thursday when he was asked about the effect of Per Mertesacker’s imminent return to full fitness.
The manager hailed his captain, before going on to add - unprompted - that we are now entering a “moment of truth”, between January and May, in the Premier League title race
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
Whether or not it was intended as a prompt to his team ahead of Sunday’s game against Burnley, the message was clear. Everything until this point has been about jostling for position: now it is time to turn on the afterburners.
That starts this weekend, and the statistics certainly favour the Gunners with the visitors having only picked up one point on the road in the Premier League.
Wenger is full of admiration for the Clarets - describing their season so far as “unbelievable” - but is keen for his side come out of the blocks quicker than they have since the turn of the year.
He has been encouraged by the way his side are developing, but feels that if they are to rise to the challenge in their “moment of truth”, they must find the right balance and stamp their authority on games as quickly as possible.
“Maybe [we thrive in the second half] because the other teams have suffered a little bit from the pace we put into the game, and they cannot last for 90 minutes,” he told Arsenal Player.
|Arsenal: Walcott (calf), Cazorla (ankle), Mertesacker (knee), Debuchy (hamstring)Burnley: Marney (knock - doubt), Arfield (hamstring - doubt), Gudmundson (hamstring - doubt), Long (knee)|
“Maybe technically as well because the superiority comes out a little bit later in games sometimes. And sometimes as well because when you are in front, the teams have to come out and open some space that we can exploit, because we are very quick on the counter-attack.
“We have a very strong attack, we can score goals from everywhere and I like that. I like that the offensive dynamic in the team can come from everywhere.
“At the moment we have Walcott put, and he’s scored goals. We have Alexis and Giroud scoring most of the goals but we have recently seen that Ramsey can score, Iwobi can of course score, Ozil can score. That is something very interesting for us.
“I’m a manager who likes to go forward but we have to find that balance between offense and defence, and that’s maybe where the future of this season lies - can we find a good balance between attacking and defending?”
Everywhere you look in the Arsenal attack right now, you see goals.
Alexis’ record of being involved in 31 in his last 32 matches is nothing short of remarkable, and no players has created more chances in the top-five European leagues than him.
Olivier Giroud is in the form of his life, with 11 goals in his last nine starts for us, and - having recovered from the knock he sustained at Swansea, is available for selection once more.
Mesut Ozil is well on course for the most prolific campaign of his career, Alex Iwobi showcased at Liberty Stadium just how much of a threat he can be, while Lucas always seems to rise to the occasion when given a chance.
When you throw Danny Welbeck into the mix, it is clear that the boss a serious selection headache in attack - and you can vote for who you would select this weekend right here.
At this point last season, we had scored 37 goals from 21 matches. This time around, we have 48 - a near 30 per cent rise - and the manager is delighted with this improved efficiency.
“It’s a very big rise,” he said. “It’s down to the quality of chances we create, and as well the quality of our finishing this season is much better than last. The quality of the finishing is certainly linked with the chances we create.
“I believe we are one of the teams that has scored the most goals in the final part of games, more than everybody else. We have the players coming off the bench who have had more impact than anywhere else. That is simply linked with the quality and of course the team spirit as well.”
While Burnley have impressed many this season with the confidence they have displayed, they are a different proposition when they are away from Turf Moor.
They have only scored twice on the road in the Premier League, and while Wenger knows his side will be heavy favourites to win, he insists they will have to be at their best to defeat a side known for their organisation and discipline.
“It’s a very special atmosphere over at Burnley,” he said. “You feel that the atmosphere is fantastic, they have mastered exactly what to do at home very well, they are very efficient on set-pieces and very direct as well.
“At the moment, they haven’t found exactly the same away form, but let’s hope they will not do that on Sunday.
“For us, it’s a very important game. It’s a very important challenge for us as well because we dropped points against teams between fifth and 12th at home last season.
“We know that’s one of our challenges this season, to perform against these kinds of teams at home. We want to win this game so it’s very important that we prepare well mentally.
“We’ve had some practise [against teams who sit back at the Emirates] but we also don’t forget the ingredients that are needed to play against a team who is very deep.
“That means we have to use the speed of our game, the speed of our passing and the quality of our runs will be very important. We will have to keep a cool head in the final third too, and not give anything away on the counter-attack.”
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