By Richard Clarke
You could have been forgiven for thinking Saturday’s defeat at Fulham irrevocably dented Arsenal’s season.
It did not.
But tonight’s game with Twente certainly can.
At this stage of the season, three dropped Premier League points are only an irritant. But conceding three unanswered goals this evening would see Arsenal out of Europe’s elite for the next 12 months.
It should not come to that, Wenger’s side have lost only one game in over two seasons at Emirates Stadium and they have conceded only once in three matches this term.
But, at the same time, they have not been convincing.
The Gunners started their season a fortnight ago with a 2-0 win in the Champions League Qualification Round first round tie at Arnhem despite being under severe pressure for the first hour. They followed that with a narrow 1-0 win over West Brom. At this point Arsenal were thought to be a title-chasing side who were doing exactly what title-chasing sides do – winning ugly.
However they followed that by losing ugly at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
The reaction has been severe but it will be nothing on the criticism coming Arsenal’s way if they were to let a healthy lead slip this evening.
“It's a massive game for us,” admitted Wenger at his pre-match press conference. “I don't even look at the financial consequences. We want to play at the top level and to be at the top level is to be in the Champions League.
“It hurts terribly to lose a game like Saturday. It is terrible to take but you cannot be too catastrophic.
“No matter how good you are in life, the players are human beings and have been away for the whole of last week. When you have an away game, it can happen that you are caught for 20 or 30 minutes.
“But there are 36 games to go. We are in a good position to qualify for the Champions League and have injured players coming back.
“We already have a good squad and we have everything needed to be successful. But commitment is needed for any success, no matter how much quality you have.”
Wenger will pick from the same squad as Saturday with the significant addition of Cesc Fabregas. However it is not known if the Spaniard will start against a side who ambushed Arsenal in the opening stages a fortnight ago.
“It was a real cup game and they made it very physical,” said Wenger. “They played a lot on the fringe but to sustain that for 90 minutes is very difficult for any team in the world.
“I felt we could use that to our advantage in the second half. But it was a very difficult game and all respect to Twente. They played very well.
“I believe they will make it very difficult for us again on Wednesday. They will try to defend well in every area of the pitch and try to catch us on the break.”
And Wenger is not fooled by Arsenal’s first-leg lead. He has always considered 2-0 a healthy but booby-trapped advantage in the return game.
“You can sometimes be not positive enough and think you just have to defend,” he said. “You can be not focused enough and have not prepared well enough to go into a game of this importance.
“But the fact that we had a bad game on Saturday will help us be completely focused.
“That is the only positive side of our defeat at Fulham on Saturday.”
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