Arsene Wenger faced an angry supporter at last week’s shareholder Annual General Meeting when he was accused of overseeing an ‘embarrassing’ run of recent results in the Champions League.
Today he will face more questioning from the media about his European ambitions ahead of tomorrow night’s must-win match against Bayern Munich, but the truth of the matter is a defeat will not be a bad result.
Wenger’s squad have played themselves into Premier League title contention with almost quarter of the season gone and look as though they could go the distance.
Wenger prizes this title above all other competitions and that is why he was prepared to risk some physically fragile players for this potentially difficult match against a physical Watford side.
The fact he admitted after this win that he is considering resting match-winners Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for the Bayern battle shows that domestic success is his primary target.
The problem, for Wenger, is that Arsenal need to finish bottom of their Champions League group and avoid the Thursday night ignominy of the Europa League to really be able to focus on the title race.
But with that ‘achievement’ will come an element of ridicule and a potential dip in confidence.
Arsenal, as they showed last time out in their 19-minute three-goal demolition of Manchester United and in this wholly different patient victory, have the ability to be the best in England, but many wonder if they have the depth and mental strength to emulate Wenger’s three previous title-winning squads.
No European demands will help the French coach look after the fitness of players such as Sanchez, who once again showed he is a class above most of his opponents and team-mates. The Chilean, who was not 100 per cent fit, combined with Ozil and Santi Cazorla to give Arsenal a 62nd minute lead with his tenth goal in six games for club and country at a time when Watford were threatening.
The enigmatic German Ozil then set up a second for substitute Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey’s superfluous third came with about 15 minutes to go. Wenger probably cannot publicly admit losing to Bayern would not be a bad result, for he knows his players are capable of anything in their current form.
Speaking after his post-match press conference at Vicarage Road he said: “For us it is a perfect run in the Premier League, and on the other hand also perfect preparation for the Bayern game because we had no injuries and we got the three points, we are now in a position where we can focus and give everything on Tuesday night. I will have to see how we prepare for this [Bayern] game now and decide what we want to do. The confidence level is there, the required result is there as well – we know exactly what is needed as 0-0 is not even a good result. To score goals, we have to attack.”
Wenger has previously masterminded European comebacks, but ruled out a reckless tactic of all-out attack, however, and added: “It is ideal, but that is difficult to plan, we did not plan to be 3-0 up after 20 minutes [against Manchester United}. What we want to do is play up to our level, because that will be needed because we play against a big team.”
For Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, rested when they lost at home to Olympiacos last time out, it is important to keep on an even keel. He said: “We knew it was going to be a difficult game. We needed to be patient to score the first goal. We treat everybody with the same respect so the three points are vital for us.”
The newly-promoted side’s main problem is a lack of goals, despite the best efforts of inspirational captain and striker Troy Deeney.
He said: “It was a harsh lesson in what the Premier League big boys are all about. Let’s be realistic, we’ve just come into the Premier League, we’re not expected to just go and beat Arsenal.
“We gave the fans something to cheer about and showed what we can do. The challenge for us now is to make that 65 minutes last 90 minutes against Stoke away.”
Gomes 6, Nyom 5 (Berghuis 69, 6), Prodl 5, Cathcart 6, Ake 7; Capoue 6, Watson 6, Abdi 6 (Ibardo 75, 6), Anya (Paredes 81, 6); Deeney 7, Ighalo 5.
Subs not used:
Gilmartin, Britos, Holebas, Behrami.
Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 6, Monreal 6; Coquelin 6, Cazorla 6; Ramsey 6, Ozil 8 (Arteta 79, 6), Sanchez 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 79, 5); Walcott 6 (Giroud 63, 7).
Subs not used:
Macey, Gibbs, Chambers, Debuchy.
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