Thursday 19 October 2017

Wenger has faith in squad strength

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey continues to be plagued by injury
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey continues to be plagued by injury

Arsene Wenger has confidence his Arsenal squad has the strength to challenge on three fronts as he searches for an explanation for Aaron Ramsey's latest injury.

The FA Cup holders play Middlesbrough in Sunday's fifth-round tie at the Emirates Stadium and Monaco in the Champions League later this month, while continuing their bid for the Premier League's top four.

"We have the squad to do it," Wenger said. "How dedicated, how focused, how motivated, how united we'll be until the end of the season will decide that.

"This is a period where you need more from your players than usual, because it's the last four months of the season and you need everybody to give a bit more than they're used to."

It was a Ramsey goal which ended Wenger and Arsenal's nine-year wait for silverware at Wembley last May, but their bid to retain the trophy continues without the Wales midfielder.

The 24-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute for Tuesday night's Premier League defeat of Leicester, but was replaced after only nine minutes due to a hamstring problem.

Ramsey's promising career has been punctuated by injury and Wenger believes there is a reason Arsenal are still to discover.

"We haven't found the underlying reason," Wenger said.

"There is an underlying reason that is medical or biomechanical, because he's a guy who is serious, works hard, has a controlled and disciplined life.

"There's no obvious reason why he should have muscular problems."

Wenger played down the severity of the problem which is expected to keep Ramsey out for a fortnight and insisted Arsenal's training methods are sound.

"It's not a major injury. It's a grade one," he added.

"We have individualised training. I don't think that is any special case that has been neglected. It's just we have to find the reason why that happens."

Forward Alexis Sanchez may also be absent for Sunday after receiving a blow to the knee against Leicester, but Wenger could have midfielder Jack Wilshere available after a lengthy spell out following ankle surgery.

"He has been out for four months and misses competition," Wenger said.

"It will take him a while to get back to a competitive level.

"Competition gives you that sharpness training cannot give you, because it's about a combination of fitness and speed of decision making and it takes a while to get that back."

Wilshere, who has twice been seen with a cigarette in his hand, much to the dismay of Wenger, was recently rebuked by the Gunners boss for being pictured holding a shisha pipe at a nightclub.

England boss Roy Hodgson was asked about the episode on Thursday and was nonplussed by "a faint fruity taste" when he tried a shisha pipe.

When Hodgson's comments were put to Wenger, he smiled and said: "Some people must love it because they do it. I never tried, so I cannot tell you anything about that."

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who played in the fourth-round win over Brighton, will start again in the FA Cup after losing his Premier League place to David Ospina after being caught smoking following the loss to Southampton.

Wenger added: "I left Ospina in because he had done well. But Wojciech is completely ready. He responded in a very determined and focused way."

Wenger may play defender Gabriel Paulista in front of Szczesny, with the January signing from Villarreal "very close" to his debut.

"He likes to defend. It's more and more difficult to find people like that," Wenger said.

"(He is) a player who has overall good qualities: good pace, good in the air, good in one against one.

"But it's best I don't talk too much and let him play and he shows how good he is."

Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), Mikel Arterta (ankle) and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) remain out alongside Abou Diaby (calf).

Wenger refuses to underestimate Boro, conquerors of Manchester City in the last round as part of the Championship leaders' 10-game unbeaten run.

"We will not have the excuse to be surprised because they beat Manchester City in a convincing way," Wenger said.

"That is a good warning for us. We are at home, we have a possibility to go to the quarter-finals so we cannot be surprised by them, that's for sure.

"It's a big challenge, but big opportunity as well. That's how we have to look at it.

"We have the luck with the draw to play at the Emirates so let's take this opportunity."

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