Monday 23 April 2018

Wenger in no mood for hiding

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Amy Lawrence

Perhaps it is a sign of how difficult it was for Arsene Wenger to fathom how his team opened the new Premier League campaign with a self-inflicted stumble that his explanations send out a mixed message.

On the one hand, he suggested his Arsenal players were suffering from nerves. On the other, he wondered if they were over-confident. Either way, the approach was so damaging Wenger is demanding a big improvement for a tricky trip to Selhurst Park today.

He does not hide from the fact that the mood in the aftermath of defeat by West Ham makes the match against Crystal Palace - on only the second outing of the campaign - one with critical edge. "It is always about how you respond and our game is hugely important," he says.

"We just need to be at our best and produce a different performance. Sometimes, we are maybe too nice. If you want to say our aggression level against West Ham was not big enough, then I would agree with you. It's maybe linked with the fact we were too confident and that we thought we would win the game anyway."

That last sentiment pulls no punches. It betrays how let down Wenger felt by such an unexpectedly slack display having talked up his team's ambitions throughout pre-season.

It was not just the mentality and intensity that was off beam last Sunday. The balance of the team was not quite right. The midfield blend of Francis Coquelin's brawn and Santi Cazorla's brain - such a cornerstone last season - was disrupted as the Spaniard was shifted wide to allow Aaron Ramsey a more central berth, and as a result Arsenal were not as fluent as they like to be. A tinker, plus the return of Alexis Sanchez, are obvious considerations to pep up the team.

Wenger is conscious that this is a difficult assignment - the impressive purchasing power of mid-range Premier League clubs will, he reckons, make this a tougher competition all round. "They will get closer on a technical level to our level so it will not be so much an opposition of style. They will all raise their level on the technical front, so these teams now have more players who can decide a game. Every mistake you make you can be punished."

Arsenal need to click fast to avoid an early-season puncture turning into a more serious malfunction. Wenger is eager to put the West Ham disappointment behind them and keep some perspective. "You have to accept that you can win, lose or draw in every game. I know it looks silly today to say that, but it is like that. Even if you play against a Division Two team you have to accept that. This is the reality."


Crystal Palace v Arsenal,

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