We return to Premier League action at West Ham United on Saturday, and ahead of the game Chris Harris sat down with the boss to discuss the match.
"You cannot start to accelerate halfway through the race, you have to be strong from the start." - Arsene Wenger
And so the League Cup continues to evade Arsene Wenger.
The boss has armfuls of Premier League and FA Cup medals but the third domestic trophy - in its various guises - remains elusive. This time a smart Southampton side snatched the prize away on a pretty miserable night at the Emirates.
OP = Outfield PlayersGK = Goal Keepers
That 2-0 defeat reiterated the importance of fast starts. In fairness it hasn’t been an issue in the league this season - we’ve trailed for a top-flight low of 73 minutes, have yet to concede in the first 15 minutes and haven’t been behind at half-time since February.
But those standards slipped on Wednesday and we can’t afford a repeat at West Ham United.
“It’s important to start well because that’s where you dictate your authority on the game, and because it’s our style,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. “You want to be faithful to your style.
“You also get in a zone where you want to be straight away. It’s always difficult to get in the zone of playing with speed when you start slowly. It is important and it’s a kind of race.
"You cannot start to accelerate halfway through the race, you have to be strong from the start. That’s why we want to get used to not having any slow starts. We always want to be on the front foot from kick-off.”
|Arsenal: Debuchy (hamstring), Giroud (groin), Bellerin, Cazorla (both ankle), Akpom (back), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee), Sanogo (calf)West Ham: Cresswell, Antonio (both groin), Sakho, Byram (both hamstring), Oxford (ankle), Tore (thigh), Carroll (knee - doubt)
Wenger prefers not to overload his players with information in the moments before a match, but ‘start strong’ is a message he wants ringing in their ears as they leave the dressing room.
“That’s always the speech you have before the game,” he said. “After that you face individual rituals. Every player has their own ritual to prepare for the game, and his own way of feeling, struggling with his doubts.
“As a unit, the team is not always on the same energy level and our job is to prepare the team to have the right energy level from the start.”
ONE TO WATCH
Santi Cazorla isn’t coming back any time soon but his erstwhile midfield partner isn’t going anywhere.
Only Mesut Ozil and Alexis have started more games than Francis Coquelin this season - even with the plentiful midfield options at Wenger’s disposal. Coquelin is hardly a Premier League veteran - this is only his second full season - but he is already a bedrock.
“Francis has improved a lot,” said Wenger. “Every year he’s getting better and he’s very focused, very committed and conscious of his responsibilities in the team.
“He’s certainly the most defensively efficient midfielder, so it allows me to balance the team around him. We are an offensive team and to have someone who can break things up and whose first pass is very good, helps a lot for us to be efficient.”
Coquelin is a tempo-setting midfield presence, urging on team-mates and biting into tackles. That makes fewer headlines, but Wenger says Coquelin is hugely admired within the club.
“I think what is most important when you’re a footballer is that you play and you get the credit from the technical people,” he said. “If you can get the credit from the crowd and the fans as well, you have to take that challenge as a long-term issue when you’re not a spectacular player.
“Offensive players are very spectacular and with defensive players I think you sometimes get a silent recognition. They take it for granted that every week you do this job. I think on a longer term, these people are rated.”
W2 D2 L2. Slaven Bilic and his team have made a stuttering start to life at the London Stadium, and no wonder.
It’s a far cry from the hostile, claustrophobic confines of the old Boleyn Ground and, for the players and fans, it will take time for this new home to feel like home.
If anyone can empathise with West Ham, it’s Wenger. He took us to Wembley for two years of Champions League home games in the late nineties, and from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.
We drew three of our first five Premier League games at our new ground, so the boss knows all about settling-in periods.
“It takes a few years,” he said, “because you have to make memories and build a little history. For a while, when we moved from the marble hall at Highbury, it was full of history, and suddenly you move to a stadium where nothing happened before you came in there.
“You feel a bit lonely there, so you have to rebuild the environment from the results that you had before. For the supporters it is the same: they sat every time next to the same guy, and they say ‘remember last time we were here, we beat this team’ and then suddenly they sit away from them [in the new stadium].
“Does it have an impact on the results? It’s difficult to prove. Psychologically with mental comfort at the start, you have a deficit. But I feel West Ham have a very strong squad and they will certainly get out of it. I don’t think that they will fight against relegation.”
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