Ahead of a match that could prove vital to Arsenal’s title challenge, Arsène Wenger insisted there is something very different about his current squad compared to some of their predecessors. He claimed that previous teams had buckled in title challenges between 2007 and 2011 because key players were “tapped up” and looking to move “somewhere else”, damaging focus.
The Arsenal manager insisted that this is not an issue with his present players ahead of today’s trip to Manchester United, saying they are so fired up for this title race they almost need to be “relaxed”. He also claimed the perception that his sides falter in the last few months of the season is a myth.
Yet Arsenal have not stayed the course in title races past March since 2008, struggling both in that campaign – most notoriously in the 2-2 draw at Birmingham City, when Eduardo was injured and William Gallas staged a sit-down protest – and 2010-11. Wenger put that down to want-away players.
“What is different is that at that time we were losing momentum. This time it’s the opposite. We are chasing and gaining momentum. We had two difficult games recently, but overall the psychological situation is quite different.
“Also we were very young at that time, with the famous incident with Gallas at Birmingham. And the mood of some players was more to get the next contract somewhere else than to win the championship, because at the time we had to sell our players. When we went into April some of the players were tapped up to go somewhere else, and it was difficult to maintain the focus.
“Now we have not that problem at all. All the players are focused and want to win and have great solidarity. The psychological situation is completely different today than it was in 2010.
“This is a team that is very hungry, yes. This team wants to do well and is very conscientious. We have a job to relax them a little bit. I think it’s certainly top, top spirit-wise. In 2010 I would say we lost it because the spirit was not exactly what it should be because of individual tap-ups.”
Wenger also refuted the perception that Arsenal fall away late on in seasons. “I read many things which are not completely verified by the statistics. For example, there is a perception that Arsenal fades in March and April. But if you look over 20 years we have always finished stronger in the second part of the season. It is true we have lost once or twice the championship, but you could say that about Man United as well, and any team.”
Arsenal will do well to replicate the intensity of their 3-0 win over Manchester United in October, a victory Alexis Sanchez said was their best display of the campaign.
“That home game at the Emirates really was the best match we’ve played,” the Chilean said. “That day, before we all went out for the match, if you looked into the eyes of all the players you could see we all had this hunger to win.”
Arsenal’s task will be made harder if United’s striker Anthony Martial is fit, after missing last week’s 5-1 Europa League win over FC Midtjylland with a hamstring problem.
“He’s a player who can make a difference from anywhere,” Wenger said. “He can take a ball in the middle of the park, take it past two or three players and create differences. He has had a big impact at Manchester United, and over a longer distance it will be a fantastic buy.
“I was surprised when Monaco sold him so quickly because if you had kept him one year more he would not, at 20, have lost any [value].”