We return to Premier League action against Everton on Tuesday night, and ahead of the game Rob Kelly sat down with Arsene Wenger to discuss the match.
“I said many times that we are 25, not 11 and more than ever this season it has been proven. If we can maintain that spirit, it will help us be very efficient - even more over the Christmas period.” – Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger has always had a keen eye for stats – and there is a recent one that has clearly captured his imagination.
On three separate occasions in his pre-match press briefing on Monday, the manager mentioned the fact that six times so far this season his side have come from behind to avoid defeat.
It is, he suggested, a useful barometer to read the temperature of a team – and his Arsenal side are certainly in rude health.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
Another useful indicator is that everywhere you look, you have players making telling contributions. Alexis, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott tend to hog the headlines but when needed, Petr Cech made an important save to deny Stoke an equaliser on Saturday.
Similarly, two more – Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi – stepped off the bench to claim an assist and a goal respectively. When you have that sort of strength in depth, it can only be a positive heading into a packed festive schedule.
“I said many times that we are 25, not 11 [players] and more than ever this season it has been proven,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “If we can maintain that spirit, that will help us be very efficient - especially over the Christmas period when even more will be needed.
“What pleased me most [against Stoke] was that we were 1-0 down and came back for the sixth time this season. Also, we kept our composure and didn’t rush our game.
Arsenal: Mustafi (hamstring), Ramsey (toe), Cazorla (ankle), Mertesacker (knee), Welbeck (knee)
Everton: Bolasie (knee), Besic (knee), Pennington (hamstring)
“You feel we have built a level of trust and confidence in our game and we have to take care of that because it is an important quality. I would say that trust is linked with the fact we have players with more experience now - but also with the recent history of the team.
“When you build momentum, the pain of defeat is not in your mind and you just focus on how you want to play - that helps.”
Our next test comes at Goodison Park, and Wenger admits it is a special ground to play at – and not just because of our recent record there.
“It is like Highbury, like Anfield, it is this kind of place where you have a very strong support and where you have a soul on the pitch and in the stadium,” he said. “That comes out with the pictures of the games from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s - the memories there.
“We know we have another big week ahead of us and we want to deal well with that. Everton is always a very important fixture in the schedule. It is always special. It is always a good atmosphere and a very tight game, but we want to do well and continue our run.”
ONE TO WATCH
It has been quite a season for Theo Walcott so far.
After last year’s flirtation with becoming a central striker, he announced at the start of this campaign that he was back to where he knows best – the right flank.
That shift has offered him the mental clarity that he needed, and the benefits have been there for all to see.
For not only did Walcott's goal against Stoke City earn him a coffee machine from his wife, it was also the 100th of his senior career.
Wenger has been hugely impressed with Walcott’s transformation and feels that he has reached a higher plane this season.
“I believe he has become a more complete player,” the manager said. “He absorbs the defensive job now, which was not his strength, without losing his attacking efficiency. So overall he has developed physically and mentally in a very strong way, and he is a different player.
“[The change of position] has helped him, and what has also helped him is that he had a long time to reflect on what has happened to his career and to him – such as the fact that he was not selected for the England squad [for Euro 2016].
“He has found the right solution, and I agree that the clarity of his thinking has come out in a very strong way and at the moment he is capable of maintaining his focus on what he wants to do. That is why he is efficient.”
After an excellent start to the season under Ronald Koeman, Everton’s form has dipped sharply – a run that has seen them only win once in their last 10 Premier League matches.
Their new manager has admitted in the build-up to Tuesday’s match that it is proof that he and his players are “under-performing” but Wenger is expecting another big test nonetheless.
For while the Toffees are not at the top of their game right now, they still have plenty of quality in the squad, with the jewel in the crown being Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgium international has 14 goals in 18 appearances for club and country this season - including a brace in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Watford - and cutting off the supply line to him will be vital.
“Everton are a team which, when you look at the quality of their squad, is a strong opponent,” Wenger said. “It is true they started well and their run has weakened a little bit, but all teams have ups and downs.
“It doesn’t make the squad weaker, we just expect to play a very strong team because when I look at the quality of their players, you know you will have to defend well if you want a good result.
“Lukaku has the power,” he added. “He is always very motivated against us and we have to maybe make sure that he doesn’t get the ammunition that makes him dangerous. We need to ensure that the providers do not have access to him.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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