We return to Premier League action against Burnley at Turf Moor on Sunday, and Chris Harris previews the game with the help of Arsene Wenger.
“It’s a privilege. It’s my life. Twenty years in a professional career is amazing.” - Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger doesn’t venture down memory lane that often, but he couldn’t really avoid it this week.
October 1, 2016 marks Wenger’s 20th anniversary as our manager, and broadcasters and journalists were queueing up for his reflections on two decades at the top.
The boss started his media duties on Friday by watching a video of his greatest moments at the helm. For 90 seconds he fell quiet, taking in highlight after highlight.
“It’s very emotional because I’ve seen all my special moments from my time at Arsenal,” Wenger said as the clip ended.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
“You see the players who have had a special impact on the history of the club, all the special moments they’ve produced. You see yourself starting at the club as well, and a few wrinkles later you’re still here and still capable of fighting.
“It’s a privilege. It’s my life. Twenty years in a professional career is amazing. We go just game by game but when you look back you see that you have come a long way. It also reminds you that the club has moved forward. It has come from a normal shop to a big supermarket, a world market. For me to go through this history has been a privilege.”
It’s hard to appreciate just how mysterious Wenger seemed back in 1996. A virtual unknown in England, his appointment was considered a gamble compared to more recognisable candidates like Johan Cruyff and Terry Venables.
The board knew best and the rest is history. Wenger was under pressure from day one but he handled it brilliantly.
“I have learnt to master the pressure because I believe I can focus on what’s important in the difficult moments and keep calm,” he said. “That was always one of my strengths and has been since I was a kid.
“People say I am cool under pressure but maybe I am not as cool as I look sometimes!”
Wenger has been so successful that he could lose his next 100 games and still have the best win percentage of any Arsenal manager. He wouldn’t have a job, of course, but you get the point. His secret is one of football’s well-worn cliches - taking each game as it comes.
“Something I rely on in my career is that you’re only as good as your last game,” said Wenger. “The next game against Burnley will be a very big one and you want to prepare well. Our preparation is very important and we want to keep our focus on what is important.”
ONE TO WATCH
Wenger once said that “a football team is like a beautiful woman. When you do not tell her, she forgets she is beautiful."
The boss must have been very complimentary of late because the team are flying. We’ve seen six wins in seven, goals aplenty and an intensity that has blown away Chelsea and Basel in the past week.
There’s certainly a correlation between our form and Alexis’ increasing comfort as a centre forward. Theo Walcott was the matchwinner in midweek but Alexis was the catalyst - he set up both goals, linked up play and dragged Basel’s defence out of position time and again.
“He’s a good dribbler of the ball, he makes very strong runs, he’s very quick at closing people down and he is a good passer of the ball as well,” said Wenger. “With the link play he is dangerous too.
“At the moment he integrates well the way we want to play because our passing is very quick and short. He can be individually dangerous and he adds mobility to our link play and our short combinations.
Wenger is sometimes asked to compare Alexis to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, two totems of the world game. But his elusive, explosive style is more reminiscent of Luis Suarez.
“Yeah, there are similarities with Suarez because he is provoking defenders, you know,” said Wenger. “He goes at them and wins balls that people don’t expect him to win.
“I think Alexis gets better in that central role, in every single game. That’s what encouraged me, because at the start, the first two games people were not really convinced but there was always a progression in the quality of his games and as well I believe the physical progression, because he started a bit behind everybody else.”
Our last two away games have brought eight goals and two wins, but Burnley should be a tougher proposition.
The newly-promoted Clarets have beaten Liverpool and Watford at home - keeping clean sheets in the process - and they will punish any sluggishness on Sunday.
|We are unbeaten in seven league games against Burnley (W4 D3), winning the last three in the PL Hector Bellerin has provided more assists than any other Premier League defender since the start of last season (6)|
“Burnley have been very efficient at home and they are a team who are very well organised with their style of play because they have had a consistency from the manager,” said Wenger.
“Sean Dyche has been there for a few years now and he knows the Premier League. It looks like he has adapted his style efficiently. I watched their last game against Watford and their commitment was absolutely superb. We have to prepare for a battle mentally and I believe it will be a very important and very interesting game as well.
“I think Burnley are ready to suffer,” added Wenger. “They are ready, because against Liverpool they had not a lot of possession, but they were very efficient and as well because they have strong points. They are strong on the counter-attack, they are efficient on set-pieces and that’s why they get results.”
|Arsenal: Coquelin, Mertesacker, Welbeck (all knee), Giroud (toe), Ramsey (hamstring) Burnley: Barnes (hamstring)|
The implication is clear: we can’t let the intensity slip this weekend. Not that Wenger thinks his players will lose their appetite any time soon.
“They have a taste for more, because I think when you play at the level we have played in recent games, they enjoy it,” he said.
“When you enjoy, you want to enjoy again. I think as well when you can play at that level it makes you discover what football can give you and that should give you a taste for more. But what is interesting in our game is that you have to be rigorous to get more. You have to put more effort in because it doesn’t come naturally. You have to make effort to get to that level.”
It goes without saying that the boss himself still has “a taste for more”. Twenty years has not dulled his desire.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Because I have a massive passion for the game and for this club. I want this club to do well. I live for the next game so I want to prepare well.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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