Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and a quiz. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of the Lincoln game.
“What is in favour for them is that they have done it against Burnley, so that would have certainly lifted their confidence more. That’s why we really have to be on our toes and ready to start in a strong way.” - Arsene Wenger
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
There has been a lot of analysis, as well as self-analysis, at London Colney this week in the wake of Tuesday night’s Champions League disappointment against Bayern Munich.
Coming so soon after an equally damaging defeat at Anfield, it has made for a difficult week for Arsene Wenger and his players, who find themselves fighting to pull themselves out of an extended slump.
But having had time to separate himself from the emotions that surrounded his side’s European exit, the Arsenal manager is able to see reason for optimism. There is no denying that the final scoreline may have been less than flattering, but he insists the game should be analysed in two parts - before Laurent Koscielny’s red card and after.
“Yes, exactly - it was two games,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “[The final score] was down to the fact as well that we had goals to catch back so the influence of the red card was even bigger. If we had an advantage to defend it would have been easy. But we had one per cent chance, then during the game we pushed it to 30 to 35 per cent and the red card killed it completely.
“In the first half I felt we produced a quality game, maybe the best this year. We had drive, pace, determination, an assertive attitude and authority in our game. Overall I think we did extremely well. That leaves you many regrets after.
“I was in a position where I thought, ‘Do we try to keep it to 1-1’ or try to make the impossible possible - I decided on the second solution and we were heavily punished. I stand up for that but it is difficult to say to a team, ‘Okay we are out - let’s just defend the result’ - that shows you have no ambition at all anymore, and can be detrimental. No matter what you do in these situations, you lose.
“Paris Saint-Germain for example lost six and everyone reproaches them for not having played and only defended. We were in an impossible position after the sending off of Koscielny and it just typifies how important it is to have video and get as many decisions right as we can.”
The biggest challenge facing the Arsenal manager is to lift his players and remind them of the positives in their first-half display, and he needs his lieutenants in the dressing room - the likes of Koscielny, Petr Cech and Per Mertesacker - to help him do that.
“They have a huge influence because they are responsible for the energy within the group, for the dynamic and the focus,” Wenger added. “When you are experienced you can see the big picture more and take a distance.
“That is what you want them to do, be positive about what we did well and absolutely lift the spirit of the players and get the disappointment out.”
THEO THE BIG-GAME PLAYER
For all the soul-searching that accompanied the Bayern defeat, one fact slipped under the radar somewhat - that Theo Walcott had surpassed Brazilian Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane in terms of Champions League goals with his strike against the Germans.
The England international remains a somewhat underappreciated player on these shores, but his record in the very biggest games shows just how effective he can be.
For not only has Walcott now scored in two separate cup finals - against Chelsea in 2007 and Aston Villa eight years later - but his personal highlights reel includes six goals against Chelsea, five against Tottenham and one against Barcelona.
“The big players can produce it in the big games as well,” Wenger said. “At the end of the day, if you look at the big games like [Barcelona] last night, Neymar scored two, Messi scored, Neymar assisted the sixth goal… he didn’t kick it out, it was a good ball in to allow them to score. That’s where you need a good balance between focus and determination. You need to find that right balance.
“The [best players] can produce it when it’s demanded. They can produce what is requested under pressure. Your focus, resistance to stress and your desire plays a big part in that.
“Theo achieves a lot and that’s what we want from him. He made a step forward after having a few setbacks with little niggles, but overall it’s true that he has been one of our most consistent players this season.
“He’s done really well and played well on Tuesday night as well. I prepared him well for this game because I knew that, if we did have a chance, Theo would be part of it.”
AN AUDACIOUS OPPONENT
When you’ve only won two of your last seven games, you could argue that the last opponent you would want to face is a side riding high at the top of the table and in the running for a treble.
Lincoln City may not be Bayern Munich, but they are certainly bubbling with confidence right now. They sit proudly at the summit of the National League, have become the first non-league side to reach the Emirates FA Cup quarter-finals since 1914 and are gunning for the FA Trophy.
|Arsenal: Ozil, Iwobi, Welbeck (all doubts - illness) Cazorla, Elneny (both ankle), Ozil (ill)
Lincoln City: Angol (cup-tied)
Imps boss Danny Cowley knows his side are huge underdogs - he puts them as high as 1,000-1 shots to progress - but having beaten Burnley at Turf Moor in the fifth round, he expects them to cause problems for the Gunners.
Wenger is in something of a lose-lose situation. His side are overwhelming favourites to win and win well, so anything other than a comprehensive victory will be seized upon. But at this critical juncture in the season, he expects them to deliver when it counts.
“Of course we are under pressure,” he said. “I’ve been in the FA Cup long enough to know that the odds of a favourite has nothing to do with league position. You have to turn up and perform against any team in England, otherwise you are in trouble. I personally believe that we are ready to be focused and turn up with a huge, huge motivation, or we will have a bad surprise.
“Lincoln have an audacious attitude and they are not scared to express their talent. They play in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system. They are absolutely dangerous with every ball and they have mastered what they do very well. They have a direct game, but they are very good on second balls too, and also technically, when they win the ball back. It’s a team who knows exactly what to do and they do it well.
“They are top of the National League and they have that recent history which is very positive. What is in favour for them is that they have done it against Burnley, so that would have certainly lifted their confidence more. That’s why we really have to be on our toes and ready to start in a strong way.”
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