Arsene Wenger pats himself on the back after Nacho Monreal adds extra mettle to Arsenal in victory over Stoke
Arsenal 1 Stoke City 0
Arsene Wenger knows only too well the criticism that has come his club's way for their transfer market dealings so he feels he deserves praise for his quick deadline day capture of Spanish full-back Nacho Monreal from Malaga, and the Arsenal manager may have a point after a solid debut in the 1-0 victory over Stoke City. However, his claim that the return of Ivorian forward Gervinho ‑ the "best player" at the Africa Cup of Nations ‑ softened the blow of not boosting his attack in January might not be so readily accepted.
"We are quite lucky to have found Nacho because [Kieran] Gibbs got injured for four to six weeks and we found in 48 hours a player of that calibre... you have to give me at least that credit. I know that I don't get a lot but that is true."
What is also true, though, is that Arsenal weren't exactly thrilling on Saturday. For long periods, they struggled to open an admittedly resolute backline. It was telling that the only goal came through a deflected Lukas Podolski free-kick rather than any intended technique, and that only after Wenger was forced to bring on the German and Santi Cazorla. The Arsenal manager may regret not adding one extra option to his attack.
"I said yesterday, give me Manchester United, who did they buy? Chelsea, who did they buy? Liverpool bought. Man City didn't buy – for one single reason. [For] the top, top, top clubs, it's difficult to strengthen your team in the middle of the season.
"I would have loved to take somebody else but... we were everywhere. In the African Cup of Nations the best player is Gervinho. It's simple. Why should we go there when the best player is Gervinho? We already have Gervinho."
At the least, they have added something else. Wenger feels the performance against Stoke proved his team can no longer be intimidated either physically or mentally.
"We are a bit more mature, but we dealt well with [Stoke's approach]," he argued. "In England, you have to cope with all kinds of football without losing the quality you want to play, and that is not always easy because if you have 10 Cazorlas, you would have a very good technical team but against Stoke you would struggle.
"I think it is more mental preparation. You tell your central defenders you have to be ready, and they are good on the second ball too, so your midfielders have to be good on the second ball, to fight for it and let you play your game."
Such resilience will be essential in a Champions League race that Wenger now believes involves five teams.
"Four certainly, yes. Maybe Liverpool can still have hope. For us, I always said it's the first year you cannot predict the results of anybody. And that's why it's down to consistency."
Stoke, meanwhile, will know today whether the FA will review Michael Owen's case and take retrospective action for his swipe at Mikel Arteta following a robust challenge from the Spaniard. As of yesterday, it had to be determined whether referee Chris Foy saw the incident.
Also left nursing a wound was Jon Walters, who was left with six stitches following an clash with Monreal.
"If you look at the challenge [from Arteta], I think it is a poor challenge," Tony Pulis said. "He has reacted because of that. He shouldn't do that."
Goals: Arsenal Podolski 78.
Substitutions: Arsenal Podolski 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 68), Cazorla 7 (Diaby, 68), Ramsey (Walcott, 90+1). Stoke Jerome (Walters, 84), Jones (Crouch, 84), Owen (Cameron, 84).
Bookings: Stoke Wilkinson, Whelan, Shawcross.
Man of the match Koscielny. Match rating 5/10.
Possession: Arsenal 66%. Stoke 34%.
Attempts on target: Arsenal 5. Stoke 1.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside).
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