Arsenal will try tonight to cleanse themselves of the memory of their weekend humiliation by Chelsea. Arsène Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge was ruined by Jose Mourinho, as Chelsea stormed to a 6-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
The damage to Arsenal's title challenge is one thing - they are seven points off the lead now, with a game in hand on Chelsea - but the psychological impact could be far more telling. It was the third time this season Arsenal have travelled, on a Saturday lunchtime, to one of their title rivals, and the third time this has happened to them: they lost 6-3 at Manchester City in December and 5-1 at Liverpool last month.
Arsenal, clearly, wilt in elite company and however many points they finish off the top of the league it will not tell the whole story - that this is still a team which lacks conviction when it matters most.
None of which is to say that they should have much problem beating Swansea City tonight. Wenger insisted last night that Saturday's result was an "accident" and that people should not read too much into their run against the top teams, especially given that two of those bad defeats came with 10 men. Kieran Gibbs was sent off after being wrongly identified as responsible for a handball on the goal-line by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Saturday. Arsenal's appeal against Gibbs' red card was successful yesterday and both the left-back and Oxlade-Chamberlain will be available tonight. Andre Marriner, who issued the red card at Stamford Bridge, will referee in the Premier League again this weekend, taking charge of Southampton against Newcastle United.
"An accident has happened, that doesn't mean that you're not a good driver," Wenger said. "It just means that we have played about 40 games this season and it's not what happened on Saturday that reflects the quality of this team. We have 62 points that we earned hard with quality games and that's what we want to focus on, to get back to that quality."
Wenger is right that Arsenal have a good record against the lesser teams in the league, far better than they have had in recent years. They have won 19 games and have 13 clean sheets - only Chelsea have more. Swansea have won two of their last 16 league games - and those against Cardiff City and Fulham - so anything other than a home win would be a huge surprise.
But the players and crowd will surely need a good performance this evening if they are to move on from the weekend trauma. Looking for explanations yesterday, Wenger said it reminded him more of their Anfield defeat than the one at the Etihad. "The common thing was that it was a 12.45 game and twice we were caught at the start of the game," he said. "We think about that and at the moment there's no rational explanation other than the quality of our opponents and that we were caught at the start of the game. Why? We don't really know."
Searching for explanations can wait, though, with a cathartic three points all that Arsenal want this evening. "The crowd knows that it is a very important game and I'm confident they will be behind our team," Wenger said. "The crowd acknowledged, since the start of the season, that the team's attitude was absolutely spot on, that they have given absolutely everything. You cannot fault this team for not wanting to do well."
With centre-half Laurent Koscielny injured there will be changes, with Thomas Vermaelen likely to come in. "There will be some refreshment because we have some players who have given a lot," Wenger said. "But in other areas it's not so possible. We will try to find the right balance."Reuse content