Vermaelen hoping to boost Gunners defence
Arsenal remain hopeful that their defensive crisis will be eased against Manchester United on Sunday by the return of fit-again Thomas Vermaelen.
A calf strain has ruled Vermaelen out since the 1-0 win against QPR on New Year's Eve, but he intends to resume full training this week.
Arsene Wenger yesterday bluntly called on his players to "wake up". The Arsenal manager admitted that he is alarmed at the way the Gunners have succumbed to consecutive Premier League defeats against Fulham and Swansea City to leave his team with the worst defensive away record in the entire league.
The defence has been seriously depleted by injury to their five most experienced full-backs, but Wenger stands accused of excessive caution in the transfer market this month after failing so far to bring in an emergency signing on loan.
The right-back performance of Johan Djourou ultimately cost Arsenal the game against Fulham and, in losing 3-2 last Sunday against Swansea, it was Ignasi Miquel at left-back who was particularly exposed.
"That's now twice that we have given the game away," said Wenger. "At our level that is frustrating and not good enough. It is down to a lack of composure and the right decision-making. It is alarming because at Fulham we were 1-0 up and we lost the game. Against Swansea we came back to 2-2 and straight away we gave the third goal away. It is really a concern."
The 8-2 loss against Manchester United earlier this season is another raw memory, but Wenger said that his team must view Sunday's visit of the Premier League champions as a "massive" opportunity.
"You feel we have given six points away in the last two games in a way that is unbelievable," he said.
"It is time for us to wake up and be focused. We have a good opportunity to do that against Manchester United."
Arsenal are now four points adrift of Chelsea in the fourth Champions League position.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny attempted to sound a rallying call when he declared: "Arsenal deserves to be not only in the top four but challenging for trophies every season.
"We have to pick ourselves up, start getting the results we need, and then make sure that we finish at least in a top-four position.
"We will get the results back and we will get into the top four. The way we play makes teams tired and that will be a big factor at the end of the season." (© Daily Telegraph, London)