Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and key facts. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of Saturday's trip to Liverpool.
‘I think he has taken a different dimension’ - Arsene Wenger on Koscielny
How much of a break is too much of a break?
Arsene Wenger can’t be the only manager who has cast an envious glance at Chelsea’s free midweeks this season and craved the same preparation time for our weekend matches. But does 12 days between games go too far the other way?
Our next opponents came a cropper after a 16-day break, taking a whole half to get going at Leicester on Monday. By the time Liverpool were up to speed, the game was gone.
There are pros and cons of an extended respite at this time of the year, but Wenger has used the time wisely.
“We’ve had a mixture of good preparation and fitness work as well,” he told Arsenal Player. “As well it allows you some time to recover some players who are injured and it was a good period as well to give some competition to people like Danny Welbeck, who had two games in the under-23s. Basically on that front it was quite positive.
“It makes a nice change but it’s not always easy. You lose a little bit of the rhythm of the competition. To get that back straight away is difficult, and you could see that Liverpool struggled a bit with that in the first half against Leicester. So it’s very important to switch on quickly to competition mode to be ready from the start.”
AIN’T NOBODY LIKE KOSCIELNY
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
Here’s a obvious benefit of that break: Laurent Koscielny is fit and fresh.
The last sighting of our regular skipper was his reluctant trudge off the Allianz Arena pitch with the scoreboard reading Bayern 1 Arsenal 1.
It might be stretching the point to say that we’d have got a result if Koscielny hadn’t hurt his thigh, but it’s easy to argue that we’d still be in the tie.
“Look, he is the guy who has the experience, who leads the defence and overall of course we have seen at Bayern that he is a very important piece of the puzzle at the back,” said Wenger. “Of course I’m happy to have him back.
“I think he’s at the top in the Premier League, yes. But I’ve always believed that. I think that there’s more to come from him as well because when he arrived here he was a bit shy. I think he has taken a different dimension. He always had the top quality but I think it comes more out of him and I still think there is more to come.”
‘IT WAS A LITTLE BIT MIRACULOUS’
You can almost smell the history when these old rivals meet and anyone who knows the Arsenal story knows about Michael Thomas, Anfield ’89 and all that.
Arsene Wenger was a sprightly 39-year-old in charge of Monaco when Thomas was “charging through the midfield”. He was preparing for a French cup final that Monaco lost 4-3 to a Papin-inspired Marseille, but events on Merseyside did not pass him by.
“I remember that at the time it was nearly impossible for Arsenal - and they did it,” said Wenger. “As well, when you look at the goal again it’s a little bit miraculous.
“But it’s done with belief and it shows that belief until the end is always important because so many things happen in the final minutes in football. The teams who have the special belief, that they had at that time, can make a big difference.”
‘WE MUST KEEP THEM QUIET’
The title is anything but “up for grabs now” on this occasion but a win at Anfield would be as galvanising as it’s always been.
“Yes, of course,” said Wenger. “Our recent history has not been so positive in big games away from home, but I am convinced we have the quality and maybe we have to adapt the style a little bit as well. It’s important that we have a positive result in a big game like this.”
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Liverpool have had a pretty miserable year, picking up six points from seven Premier League fixtures. But they are notoriously fast starters at Anfield, so there won’t be time to ease through the gears on Saturday. The boss will demand nought to 60 in a matter of seconds.
“One of the battles where I think Liverpool is very strong is in midfield,” said Wenger. “Of course you have Sadio Mane, who’s been very influential. Then you have Philippe Coutinho with his creativity. To keep them quiet will be important.
“It’s always a competitive game and Anfield is always a special place. We have good history there, so of course you want to prepare for a game that will be played at a high pace, where every challenge will be important. But the technical quality will be important as well.”
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