By Chris Harris
“In life you can only show that you have learned. Last year we went to Leicester and won 5-2 and three days later we lost at home to Olympiakos 3-2.” - Arsene Wenger
Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0. Let’s enjoy that one more time.
Now let’s move on.
Saturday’s victory was as intoxicating as it gets, but there’s a new challenge on the horizon. And as Arsene Wenger knows all too well, it only takes 90 minutes for a football team to lurch from cloud nine to square one.
Ahead of Wednesday’s brush with Basel, the boss was emphatic: if we want to top our Champions League group, the high standards of Saturday must be maintained.
“In life you can only show that you have learned,” said Wenger. “Last year we went to Leicester and won 5-2 and three days later we lost at home to Olympiakos 3-2.
“So we have to go from different competitions to different competitions and produce the same performance.
“It's a big motivation for us because we know there are two group favourites at the start, PSG and Arsenal, but it's not as clear as that and not as easy as it was maybe said. So we have to show that.
“I think the team is on the way up, so it’s important not to have a setback, an unexpected setback, and we must keep the quality very high in our performance.”
|Arsenal: Coquelin, Mertesacker, Welbeck (all knee), Ramsey (hamstring)
Basel: Akanji, Bua
It has rarely been higher than it was at the weekend, and one feature of the win over Chelsea was the way we managed the second half, keeping the Blues at arm’s length as they sought a way back into the match.
“The fact that we didn't concede [was impressive],” said Wenger. “As you know you don't get two halves of that calibre and it is always about how you deal with the mental aspect of being 3-0 up in the second half.
“On that front we have shown a bit more maturity. We are focused, we started with a big knock on our heads [against Liverpool], and maybe it helped us.
“Now we have to show we are capable of being consistent but also ambitious. It means let’s put even more effort in.”
ONE TO WATCH
During the summer Wenger declared that we would “see a different Theo Walcott this year”. And not just because he changed his hairstyle.
The boss was right. The memory of Theo’s patchy 2015/16 campaign fades with every effervescent performance, and Chelsea couldn’t get near him at the weekend.
With his position fixed and his confidence flowing, Theo’s up-and-down career is soaring again. And it’s partly down to a defensive improvement that has made him more effective without the ball.
“I always felt there was character in this boy, and intelligence, and he has improved [defensively],” said Wenger. “He knows when you play on the flank, you have to add that job to your game, because today all the full backs who go forward are dangerous.
“Despite that he wanted to compete on the flank and, until now, as long as he produces these kind of performances, I’m OK with it.
“It helps when you know what you are [in terms of your position,” added the boss. “One of the things in our job you can never say never. You have to be open-minded with people, because it’s down to the performance.
“But at the moment Theo is producing performances wide, and Alexis produces them centrally.”
We’ve never met Basel, but they are hardly an unknown quantity.
Mohamed Elneny joined us from the Swiss champions in January, while summer signing Granit Xhaka was born in Basel and started his career at his hometown club. Both have a chance of starting against their old side with Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey ruled out by injury.
Even without those links, Basel’s reputation in Europe precedes itself. They’ve won four of their last five games against Premier League opposition in the Champions League, with Chelsea (twice) and Manchester United among the victims.
Basel wanted to steal a march on matchday one but were pegged back by the supposed group minnows, Ludogorets. Nevertheless, this Swiss talent factory will surely give us problems on Wednesday.
“Look at Basel and the record that they have against English club and you are on your toes,” said Wenger.
“Basel is the concentration of the best players. They are a bit like the Paris Saint-Germain of Switzerland, because they won seven or eight titles in the last 10 years and they are the dominant team. They have experience now as well of the Champions League so that’s why this team will be dangerous for everybody.
“They go under the radar, maybe more than ever, [because] the big clubs in England are under pressure to buy the big names. But before they become big names they have to play somewhere. In Switzerland we have seen that with Salah, with Xhaka, with Elneny - they have all played in Basel before.”
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