This could be an important evening at the Emirates. If Arsenal win, and Borussia Dortmund fail to beat Napoli, they will qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League with one game left. Given their group, it would be an impressive result.
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But the Emirates is starting to feel like a different place again, with a new sense of optimism that had been missing for the last few years. Ever since Arsenal moved to their new ground, there always seemed to be a tinge of expectation and frustration evident – so much so that Arsène Wenger revealed last night how he had been cautious about playing Aaron Ramsey at home, because of the potential damage from the negative atmosphere.
Ramsey, though, is a player transformed, with five goals already in this competition so far this season, including the crucial headed winner at Dortmund earlier this month. It was little surprise yesterday when the Welsh midfielder admitted how positive he is feeling with his football.
“I’m just enjoying myself at the moment,” said Ramsey, “I’m feeling really confident and the team is confident as well so that helps when you’re playing.”
Nothing revelatory, but a world away from the Ramsey of the last year or two, whose nervous displays on his way back from injury aggrieved parts of the home crowd so much that Wenger admitted there was almost a reluctance to play him.
“Let’s not forget that one year ago people were saying to me ‘it’s difficult to play him at the Emirates’,” said the Arsenal manager.
“You could see there was an impatience with him. You are always, as a manager, in a period where you think, ‘do I push him through and he might go more down [in confidence] or do you give him a breather to regenerate and get him a fresh start?’ That’s always difficult for us to assess because it is linked to their mental state. When their own confidence is down, of course, they are in trouble. But he is a confident boy.
“You have to give him credit for that transformation. That he could come back, never give up and convince everybody that he has the needed quality.”
Ramsey is a different player now, as everyone knows, but the Emirates has also changed. Arsenal have won all five league games there since their opening-day defeat to Aston Villa and their last two wins, both 2-0 against in-form Liverpool and Southampton, have been good. Wenger believes that their old problems at the Emirates have gone.
“I think so, yes. We have started to be consistent now. It was always a ‘must-win game’, but tomorrow is again against very difficult opponents. We won twice 2-0 so overall that is very positive. We just want to keep going now.
“The confidence of the team is vital. In the Premier League, the differences are so small that confidence can make a difference. We are in November, you are not in a calculating mode, you are in the moment of just showing that we are a strong team.
“The recent results have been good but these results are [not only] linked with quality, but also linked with the attitude of the players.
“It is always difficult to know if you win because the players have a good attitude or do the players have a god attitude because you win? The confidence is linked with the recent results.” Wenger hopes that Arsenal’s recent successes will not be too widely noticed and, therefore, that they can avoid the pressure that often afflicts early-season league leaders.
He added: “I like it that people are not talking about us because it means you can focus on what is important, which is to play well and not get a false level of confidence.”
Theo Walcott is fit again for Arsenal but is likely to start on the bench. Mathieu Flamini is available and should return to the team.