Arsenal v West Ham: Weary Gunners have fight for 'vital' top four finish, says Arsene Wenger
Monreal, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey struggling to be fit to the Hammers
Tuesday 15 April 2014
With a chance to win tangible silverware in next month’s FA Cup final secured, Arsenal’s attentions tonight turn to the metaphorical trophy of a top-four Premier League finish which has often prompted ridicule of Arsène Wenger.
The Gunners’ manager has been criticised during a nine-year drought in tournament success, their sensible strategy admirable yet antiquated in a modern game awash with unchecked spending. Wenger’s approach has been heavily scrutinised but the cornerstone of his management is 16 years of unbroken participation in the Champions League.
Even though Arsenal are emerging from those self-imposed financial constraints, they find themselves in another scrap for fourth place and Champions League qualification against an Everton side brimming with swagger and conviction, whose remarkable recent run of seven successive victories, which includes an emphatic 3-0 win against Arsenal, presents a clear and present danger to Wenger’s record.
Alarm bells are ringing but Wenger is the last person to need a refresher course in what is at stake. At the Gunners’ London Colney training ground, a wry smile came across his face when the perils of missing out on the Champions League were raised.
“It is vital for the current players to qualify,” he said. “You learn more by playing against Bayern or Barcelona or Real Madrid than if you play in the Europa League, that is for sure.
“For many years I was sitting here and had to convince you that it was important that we were in the top four. Now it is in a reverse position, you say to me, ‘You realise how important it is for us’.”
Fatigue will inevitably be a factor on Tuesday evening when an already stretched squad is asked to face a West Ham team founded on dogged defending, just 72 hours after an emotionally and physically draining 120 minutes at Wembley against Wigan.
Wenger’s team news was lengthy and complex. Laurent Koscielny (calf) and Tomas Rosicky (thigh) face late fitness tests, while there are doubts about Nacho Monreal, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey. Mathieu Flamini is suspended.
Wenger, however, believes the mental tonic provided by taking a step closer to ending their nine-year trophy drought will mask the physical effects; Arsenal will certainly need to discover their verve now Everton are two points ahead in fourth place, with just five games remaining.
“We know well our target,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s better to play them with a positive feeling after that semi-final. If we had gone out it would really have been terrible. The fact that we come out in a positive mood will help us to recover. I believe physically we can cope with it.”
Jack Wilshere is expected to begin jogging again this week as he steps up his recovery from a foot injury and Wenger is confident the midfielder will return in time to play an active role this season. He may even lift some silverware.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, has questioned the “balance” of ticketing for the FA Cup final against Hull after each club was allocated 25,000 seats for Wembley on 17 May.
The Gunners took 49,000 supporters to the national stadium for Saturday’s semi-final against Wigan, but for the final the FA will allot 20,000 tickets to counties, leagues, clubs and charities. The final being part of the Club Wembley membership package, will account for some 17,000 tickets.
“We are disappointed many supporters will be unable to get tickets to the Cup final,” Gazidis said.
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