By Richard Clarke
It is time for Arsenal to get back to what they know.
Arsène Wenger’s side return to Emirates Stadium for a quick quartet of home games badly in need of victory.
Last week they were licking mental wounds after allowing Tottenham to steal a draw with two last-gasp goals in the North London derby. They came back from Stoke on Saturday with all too physical ones after surprisingly losing to Tony Pulis’ newly-promoted side.
Criticism has been fierce since then but so was Wenger’s response in Tuesday’s press conference ahead of the Champions League tie with Fenerbahce.
The manager railed against strong-arm tactics both on the pitch and in the press, arguing that his Arsenal squad have an abundance of the very bravery and backbone they are accused of lacking. Wenger believes kicking football is easy, cultured football is tough.
While two poor results have dug Arsenal into a hole, two good ones by Saturday afternoon would haul them out.
Victory tonight could put his side in the Knockout Stages of the Champions League – a basic target at the start of the season. Another against Manchester United in the weekend’s early game would re-inflate Arsenal’s title ambitions.
The manager knows that is their chance.
“We have not been efficient with our results in the last two games,” admitted Wenger. “That is why it is important to come back and win.
"For example, we drew 4-4 against Tottenham but we had an outstanding performance. That's what I believe.
"So let's re-establish what we have not done well recently, defend together as a team and continue to play in a positive way.
“We have four home games on the trot now. So we want to qualify in the Champions League and come back in a strong way in the Premier League.
“We are ready and focussed. But, at the same time, we respect Fenerbahce because we know that they are a very good footballing
That may be true but the Turkish team were wide open at the back in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago. Arsenal, who were hardly water-tight themselves that night, scored five when they might have got close to double figures.
Sections of the home crowd clapped Arsenal off the pitch at full-time. They were saving all their ire for manager Luis Aragones, who is under huge pressure for his job.
His task tonight is hardly helped by the lack of Alex (thigh), who operates almost as a midfield quarterback. However the equally-talented Deivid is expected to deputise.
Arsenal are without Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle), William Gallas (hamstring), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Emmanuel Eboue (knee) plus the long-term absentees Eduardo (ankle) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring). It means enforced rotation for Wenger.
But then the manager has been shuffling his side each game for the past month and if they qualify he will turn the wheel even more in the final two Matchdays of Group G.
“I believe that once you qualify in the Champions League you can be completely focused and, if needed, rest some players,” he said.
“That is why for us, it is important to qualify as quickly as possible, especially as we didn’t win our last game. We had two bad experiences recently so we want to come back to winning ways and qualify.”
That will be achieved if Arsenal win and Dynamo Kyiv beat Porto. However it appears that victory in itself is not enough for Wenger tonight. He is looking for a statement of intent following the Stoke defeat.
"At this level you are never happy when you don't win, believe me,” said Wenger towards the end of Tuesday’s press conference.
“When he doesn't win a player at the top level is really sad and questions his performances.
“If he doesn't he shouldn't be at that level.”
A myriad of questions have been thrown at Arsenal since Saturday – some fair, some entirely unjustified. But, as always, the answers will be found on the pitch.
Four straight wins in four straight home games would almost entirely turnaround the negativity of the past week.
Right now, Arsenal need their home comforts.
|2. FC Dynamo Kyiv||3||1||2||0||2||1||5|
|3. FC Porto||3||1||0||2||3||6||3|
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