Wednesday 21 February 2018

Wenger vows Arsenal will 'fight until the end'

Arsenal 4-0 Watford

Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal with Hector Bellerin at Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Julian Finney
Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal with Hector Bellerin at Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Julian Finney
Arsene Wenger looks on. Photo: Getty
Hector Bellerin (2nd R) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's third goal. Photo: Getty
Alex Iwobi of Arsenal scores his team's second goal. Photo: Getty

Miguel Delaney

So, same old Arsenal . . . or could this yet be a case of very vintage Arsene Wenger? The way that his side so expressively enjoyed themselves in this easy win seemed so typical of an eternally frustrating team that only turn it on when it doesn't matter - but the difference this time is that, even as far behind as they are at eight points behind Leicester City, it could yet matter.

Arsenal have a very forgiving run-in and, having now claimed two successive league victories, there is the increasing feeling that could go on the kind of streak that really puts pressure on Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester.

That would be someway apt - and symbolic - since it was precisely how Wenger won his first two titles in England. In 1997-98, Arsenal went on a 10-game winning run to haul in Manchester United. In 2001-02, it was a remarkable 13.

This season, it could yet be nine in a row, now they have seven games left. It might have to be, if they are really to win the title in what would also be the only way to redeem this so-far underwhelming season.

Wenger was asked about the prospect of going on a run but didn't want to look to far ahead.

"Let's focus on the next game," the Arsenal manager said. "We don't know exactly what is needed but, for us, what is needed for sure is to keep the quality very high. Next, we go to West Ham [United]. Let's prepare for that."

Wenger was actually oddly tetchy in his post-game press conference for a manager that had just won so convincingly. It's hard not to suspect that is because he knows this was the type of performance that should have come in January and February - and certainly three weeks ago when the same Watford side beat them 2-1 here in the FA Cup sixth round.

In complete contrast to that day, Arsenal were cohesive and clinical here.

"In the cup game we had the same domination but didn't score and that makes a big difference," Wenger said.

That is also exactly why that they deserve criticism for a 4-0 win. Why did this happen now? Where was it in the home defeat to Swansea City, or the 0-0 draw against Southampton?

One difference might have been the introduction of the Alex Iwobi. The 19-year-old has given Arsenal the spark and initiative they previously lacked since coming in.

It was his urgency that brought the opening goal after just four minutes, as his perfect cross set up Alexis Sanchez for a powered header. That was saved before the Chilean converted. Sanchez then returned the favour just before half-time, as Iwobi side-footed in his pass to make it 2-0. Hector Bellerin made it 3-0 thanks to a deflection just after half-time, before substitute Theo Walcott turned a healthy win into a rout with a close-range finish near the end.

It was such a typical Walcott goal - rather meaningless, as he again showed his "potential" at the age of 27 - in what seemed such a typical Arsenal win. The hope, though, is that it can finally trigger something different.

Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores really felt the difference, although admitted his side's performance was well below par. Reflecting how haphazard they were, he made a substitution before half-time, taking off Etienne Capoue for Ikechi Anya.

"The first thing we need to reflect is that it's a failure of the manager," he said with impressive honesty. "I made a mistake and tried to correct it as soon as possible."

Arsenal now need to correct their own mistakes from earlier in the season. They need to get on this run. Wenger's entire coaching philosophy is based on building a team to a point of collective confidence so that intensely brilliant football comes off almost by instinct. That is what those winning runs of 1998, 2002 and the Invincible season were founded on.

They have some confidence back now. They probably need a bit more than that for Wenger to get the title back, though. The suspicion remains that, even if they go on a run, they will crumble again if they get close. They must prove that wrong.

"We will fight until the end, to have a chance," Wenger asserted.

He's got to also prove that, for once in the last 12 years, comments like that are more than just words.

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