Arsène Wenger will hope for some good news in a difficult week when Arsenal host Schalke in the Champions League tonight. After losing at Norwich last Saturday, his side are 10 points off the lead in the Premier League and at tomorrow's Annual General Meeting their seven-year trophy drought is bound to be an issue.
Given the importance of the league, Wenger said yesterday he was very keen to beat Schalke to allow him to rotate his team "as quickly as possible". The manager admitted that he now has a "very limited" margin of error in the Premier League after their mixed start. Their position relative to Chelsea may also increase the pressure at the AGM. While Wenger insisted that the club was "in a very strong position", he acknowledged that there would be some discontent at 11.30am tomorrow.
"Who doesn't share the frustration, of course?" Wenger said, denying that there would be any intolerance of dissenters. "I understand every frustration. I am not a racist against frustration."
Wenger hopes that victory tonight will help him to close the gap in the Premier League. Arsenal won their first two group games, at Montpellier and at home against Olympiakos, so victory tonight would put them on nine points. From there, they could relax and focus on domestic matters.
"Yes, of course, the target is for us to do that as quickly as possible," Wenger said yesterday when asked how keen he was to qualify soon so that he could start rotating. "First to do it. That will depend basically on tomorrow. If we win, we are 90 per cent there."
In recent years, Arsenal have struggled to clinch qualification as quickly as they might have liked, to the detriment of their domestic form. Last year, two draws meant they qualified only in their penultimate game. In 2010-11, it took until their sixth match after losing at Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga.
A quicker resolution this year would allow Wenger to focus on cutting that 10-point deficit in the Premier League, which he admitted was already difficult. "At the moment I agree with you it's a lot," he said. "But we have just to focus to get closer now. For us, it's not the number of points only, it is that the margin of error we have now is very limited. We have put a huge pressure on our shoulders."
The 1-0 defeat at Norwich on Saturday, Wenger admitted, was painful. "We had a difficult programme at the start but the three points we dropped at Norwich are not welcome," he said. "It came at a period where we absolutely needed to win this game. I am not too worried about the quality of the players coming back. What is very important is that we do not lose more ground."
It was Arsenal's second defeat of the season, after losing 2-1 at home to Chelsea, both came after good results. "Both games we have given away basically," the manager said. "Both games where we had more possession, more shots on goal, more chances. We have to be more efficient defensively."
But Wenger is still ready to defend the club's long-term position at the AGM. "I would love everybody to be happy," he said. "But I think overall the club is in a very strong position. They have a good team, they have fantastic players, they have a strong financial situation. People feel as well that the players have a good attitude. It's down to us now to make the maximum of this during the season. But there is no reason really to be doom and gloom.
"Who doesn't share the frustration? But the most difficult thing at the top level is to be consistent and one day you will see that. We have lost many players. I think to combine [it all]; we have a good team, a strong financial situation and to be consistent is not easy."
Arsenal fly into trouble
Arsenal have been strongly criticised for their “absurd” decision to charter a private jet for the 14-minute flight from London to Norwich last Saturday.
Jennifer Parkhouse of the Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth said: “It is absurd. I cannot see any reason why they would have flown, other than it being a rather ostentatious display of the club’s wealth. They must have spent more time getting on and off the plane than in the air.”
Manager Arsène Wenger blamed rail disruptions and traffic problems. He said: “Usually we take the train and there was no train available.”
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