Arsène Wenger hopes the pressure of a rematch against Liverpool so soon after their mauling at Anfield will help his players on Sunday.
Arsenal host Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round, just eight days after their title push was knocked off course by a 5-1 defeat that could have been even heavier. On Wednesday night Arsenal drew 0-0 with Manchester United and yet, in this pivotal spell in their season, Wenger is pleased to be facing such a difficult opponent.
Would the Arsenal manager have rather avoided Liverpool, with the scars of last Saturday still so fresh? “No,” he insisted. “I would say that it is the first team we want to play. When you can put things right, you want an opportunity to do that and we have an opportunity.”
Arsenal need a big result – Liverpool are the only major team they have beaten in domestic competition this season – especially ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League game with Bayern Munich.
This time last year Arsenal had the same Champions League opponents at this stage, but had terrible preparation in losing 1-0 at home to Blackburn Rovers in the Cup, before going down 3-1 to the Germans three days later. Wenger said he was pleased to be facing difficult opposition in the Cup for the purpose of focusing his team.
“What will decide our end of the season is to focus completely on every single game,” Wenger said. “I believe on that front, the fact that we do not play against a Championship team but against a Premier League team will help a lot.”
So Wenger has slightly higher expectations this time against Bayern, even if Pep Guardiola’s side are looking at least as good as Jupp Heynckes’ team last year. “I think we know their individual players better,” Wenger said. “We will be in a better condition hopefully, because last year after the disappointment of losing against Blackburn, [to play Bayern] three days later it was very difficult for us. I think in the league as well we were in a much more difficult position, we are mentally better prepared to go into a game of that stature.”
For now, though, Arsenal cannot take their eyes off Sunday’s game and Wenger insisted that his team are on the way back up after the trauma of last weekend. “We have got it out of our systems because our main frailty at Liverpool was that we conceded goal after goal in 20 minutes, and on Wednesday night we came back to our usual defensive stability.”
Wenger was pleased with the response against United but admitted that confidence could be higher.
“When you just conceded five goals you do not go into the next game and act like nothing happened,” he said. “I feel that we got the mental response I expected from the team, hugely committed, but with a bit more confidence we would have been a bit more composed on the ball in some situations.”
Many Arsenal fans jeered at the end of Wednesday night’s game but Wenger insisted the supporters were still onside. “They were frustrated, which is understandable, and we were as well,” he said.
“If the crowd were not behind the team that would be a surprise. We are one point off the leader, we play in the Champions League and the FA Cup. If on top of that we have not a crowd behind us that would be absolutely unbelievable.”
Mathieu Flamini will return from suspension for Arsenal but Santi Cazorla is likely to be out with illness.