Wednesday 14 November 2018

Wenger tries to lift Gunners squad out of 'negative spiral'

Wenger: Under increasing pressure Photo: REUTERS/Alberto Lingria
Wenger: Under increasing pressure Photo: REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Sam Dean

Arsene Wenger has admitted his faltering players must remember how good they are if Arsenal are to keep their stuttering season alive with victory over AC Milan in the Europa League.

Wenger said the four consecutive defeats his side have suffered had caused his players to "change their minds about their qualities", while club captain Laurent Koscielny admitted the team was in a "negative spiral".

Trailing fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by 13 points in the Premier League, Wenger's team come into tonight's round-of-16 first-leg tie knowing that winning the Europa League represents their final chance of rescuing this campaign and qualifying for next season's Champions League. "This is an opportunity for us," Wenger said. "And we have to take it."

But they will need to overcome their own mental blocks in a sold-out San Siro if they are to have any hope of overcoming a Milan team who have kept six consecutive clean sheets and have not been defeated since before Christmas.

"We are a bit affected by what happened," said Wenger, following the consecutive losses to Ostersunds FK, Manchester City (twice) and Brighton that have led to growing clamour for his 21-year tenure to be brought to an end.

"These players want to win, but in life you forget quickly how good you are. When you have a bad week, players change their minds about their qualities. We have to not forget we have good players."

Koscielny wants to end the club's worst run of form since 2002. "We need to be together," he said. "We're in a negative spiral and it's difficult to get out of this.

"We need positive voices in our heads, because the brain dictates the body and the legs. We have to be positive to have a good result and, step by step, we will come back stronger."

Koscielny played in the Arsenal defence on the club's last visit to the San Siro, when they were drubbed 4-0 by Milan in the 2012 Champions League.

Both sides have since declined but it is the Italian giants, under the management of former player Gennaro Gattuso, who have looked the more likely to return to former glories.

Asked if he had any managerial advice for Gattuso, who was promoted from his role in the Milan youth team in November following the sacking of Vincenzo Montella, Wenger said: "I don't give him much advice. He was a great player here and he's doing very well at the moment. I'm not doing well, so I can get advice from him."

Former midfielder Gattuso said there is "no comparison that can be made" between the two managers. "I am just starting," the 40-year-old said. "He has been coaching for 30 years. It's not a challenge with him, because in that regard it's not a contest.

"He's won so much in his career, he has been managing the same club for 21 years. It will be an interesting match, with more of a new philosophy like mine against him and his experience."

Wenger will be without full-back Hector Bellerin, who has an injury to his left knee. The Spaniard was in hospital yesterday but his manager said it is unlikely to be a "long-term" problem.

Wenger added that his side needed to set "reachable targets, be pragmatic and focus on what we can do better, and not to be too scared about the consequences of a bad result".

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