Five seasons ago, after Newcastle United won at Highbury, Sir Bobby Robson pointedly remarked that "some people around here need to learn how to lose". Yesterday Arsène Wenger admitted, without embarrassment, he has yet to do so.
Ten years into the job he said he still takes defeat personally feeling every time Arsenal fail to win is "a real disaster". His mood this evening, as he takes his seat in the dug-out, will thus be edgy, for Arsenal desperately need to beat Hamburg in the Champions' League, the more so after William Gallas was ruled out for three weeks after breaking down in the final moments of yesterday's training session. With Lauren still out for another five weeks, Arsenal are condemned to fielding an inexperienced defence at a critical time. As well as tonight's tie, and the 10 December League meeting with Chelsea, his thigh injury will rule him out of Arsenal's concluding Group G fixture, away to Porto.
Without Gallas Wenger will not wish to go there needing victory, especially since there is a risk he could also be bereft of Thierry Henry. The captain will miss the Porto tie if he is booked this evening.
The lack of defensive experience ought not be an issue tonight for Hamburg are having a dreadful run of form, struggling in the Bundesliga, pointless in Europe. Their team tonight, according to one German observer, is "anybody's guess". They have won one of their last 21 fixtures, are already certain to finish bottom of Group G, and are one from bottom in the Bundesliga. After scrambling a goalless draw with bottom-club Mainz on Saturday, coach Thomas Doll said: "The performance simply was not good enough. This won't win football matches."
But Newcastle arrived at the Emirates in poor shape on Saturday yet snatched a point after scoring first, so Wenger will be instilling in his team the need to ensure they do not concede the opening goal.
He added: "Even if we don't score first we want to win. Every time we don't win a game it hurts me so much. Every game we do not win is a real disaster.
"I always say it still hurts the same no matter how long you have been in the game. For me my desire is stronger than it was. I personally have big problems to become philosophical. Newcastle was a game we should have won. I prefer not to say what I was like on Saturday night."
This ought not be a surprise, despite Wenger's reputation as "Le Professeur". In the last two seasons Wenger's growing intensity has seen him embroiled in touchline clashes with Martin Jol and Alan Pardew and, according to Sir Alex Ferguson, raise his fists to the Manchester United manager in the tunnel at Old Trafford. "We are in a job where you survive if you want to win," said Wenger. "If you cope well with defeats then you will not live for a long time in the job."
Echoing Alan Curbishley towards the end of his time at Charlton, Wenger added: "You cannot really switch off because you play every three days. It is difficult. The buzz you get from the victory becomes shorter because you anticipate the problems you have the next day. You always anticipate the next game and the one after. How can you make sure you win?"
The answer, for tonight, is to repeat the performance against CSKA Moscow but with better finishing. "We create a lot of chances and we want to convert our chances. But it's not because you want to do it that you necessarily do it. You have to play relaxed and focused, and the rest usually follows."
Although Gallas is absent, probably to be replaced by Johan Djourou as Philippe Senderos has only played two Carling Cup ties since being invalided out of the World Cup, Arsenal will have Gilberto Silva back to protect the defence. With Julio Baptista looking out of condition and touch on Saturday, Mathieu Flamini should fill in for Tomas Rosicky.
Hamburg are beset by injuries as well as shattered confidence but Rafael van der Vaart, fresh from his equaliser against England last week, is fit to play.
Arsenal (4-1-4-1 probable): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Clichy; Gilberto; Hleb, Fabregas, Flamini, Van Persie; Henry.
Hamburg (4-4-2): Wachter; Fillinger, Mathijsen, Reinhardt, Atouba; Jarolim, Wicky, Van der Vaart, Mahdavikia; Ljuboja, Sangogo.
Referee: C Bo Larsen (Denmark).Reuse content