Arsene Wenger has admitted he turned to his players to determine the tactics Arsenal employed to beat Manchester City at the Etihad last week.
Wenger changed his normal attacking system for a deeper, more defensive set-up at the Etihad and was rewarded with a 2-0 win.
After Arsenal’s terrible run of form away at the big clubs last season, when they lost 6-3 at City, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea, there was some concern in the dressing room that they would be exposed again.
“You have to listen to your players and preparing for the game against City, I felt they needed to reassure themselves. And so they lined up more defensively,” Wenger admitted, in an interview with beIN Sports. “I was not surprised by the result. I believe in these guys.
“But one of the biggest jobs as a manager is the mental challenge, picking them up after a bad result and making them believe they are good enough to achieve everything that you believe they’re capable of.
“One of my major tasks is to make them understand how good they are and how good I think they are. And that’s obviously something that plays on their minds. A huge part of the job is making them mentally solid and obviously results last year when we were beaten away from home left mental scars.”
Wenger insists Arsenal are not about to abandon their free flowing style on the back of grinding out victory at Manchester City, but wants to keep his side “defensively strong”.
The manner of the 2-0 win last Sunday, when Wenger had deployed Francis Coquelin as a holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation, drew great praise as the Gunners finally passed a test of character away against one of the Premier League leading sides.
However, as he prepares to take Arsenal to Brighton in the fourth round of the FA Cup, Wenger sees no reason why the right balance cannot be found between all out attack and a determined rearguard display.
“I go from too romantic to too pragmatic,” the French coach said.
“We are not going to change our style. Of course we want to be defensively strong, but we want to play.”
Wenger accepts given Arsenal’s recent shortcomings against their top four rivals his team were determined not to get over-run once more, having been taken apart 6-3 at City last season, then 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 by Chelsea.
“We knew that it was important for us to be a bit more cautious. We wanted to be a bit more reassured,” said Wenger. “Last year we conceded many goals in big games, so maybe we were a bit more focused on defending well together, but it is not the basics or philosophy of our game, that (attacking style) will always remain.”
The likes of Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil could both start against Brighton this weekend following their comeback from injuries.
England forward Danny Welbeck, however, remains out with a thigh problem, while midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) and defender Hector Bellerin (ankle) face fitness tests.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved