Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and a poll. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of the Middlesbrough game.
TAKING THE BLAME
Just when you thought it wouldn’t get worse than West Brom away, along comes Palace away.
A fourth consecutive away defeat – unprecedented in the Arsène Wenger era – provoked anger and soul-searching. The green shoots of recovery we saw against Manchester City and West Ham did not blossom; instead they were trampled by a display that the manager found “deeply disappointing” with “decisive duels” lost time and again.
The boss can’t go on the pitch and win tackles for the players but he feels accountable – and desperate to put it right.
“You’re responsible for the performance of the team, so therefore you take responsibility for [the tackling],” said Wenger.
“The manager gets praised when it goes well, so you have to take the blame when it doesn’t go well. How much influence we have on [the players winning tackles] is difficult to measure, but we are there for that and of course we feel very responsible for it. Rightly so.
“It’s always very difficult to identify why [we lost duels]. Is it fear? Did you play with the handbrake on? Is it the fact the fact that the first chance went for Palace and went in? Did that have a psychological impact on the team? It’s difficult to know.
“We had a disappointing performance and that’s what we have to acknowledge. The best way to put it right is to give it all in the next game.”
‘FANS WANT FULL COMMITMENT’
The good news? Even a performance as listless as last Monday’s can only cost you three points.
As such, it’s crazy to suggest that our top-four chances have been extinguished, but at the same time the weekend results weren’t favourable. Liverpool and both Manchester clubs won while Everton nudged us down to seventh.
We’re just about in ‘must-win’ territory, and three points on Teesside can help repair the relationship between our supporters and the players. The opprobrium of the away fans at Selhurst Park was echoed by millions on social media and Wenger says old-fashioned graft can help restore some faith.
“The common denominator is that both [the fans and the players] love the club, both want to do well and that’s the common ground that is easy to find,” he said.
“The best way to make your fans happy is to turn up with a performance and have full commitment on the pitch. Fans always understand that you cannot guarantee winning every single game, but they want full commitment and rightly so.
“It’s down to how much we are ready to give and how much we are capable of performing. I am confident in the team, I believe in the quality of these players. Not only their football qualities but also their mental qualities. They want to do well, they just have to get rid of any restriction and play with full power and freedom. Then you will see a completely different team.”
KOSCIELNY, CECH IN CONTENTION
Like Palace, Middlesbrough have spent the season battling against the drop.
Unlike Palace, they don’t have the momentum or the firepower to pull away from the relegation zone. Indeed, Boro are the Premier League’s least threatening side in front of goal, managing an average of under three shots on target per match.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Ospina (back), Lucas (thigh)
Boro: Chambers (foot, ineligible), Friend (calf), Ramirez (ankle), Da Silva (concussion), Husband (knock)
But what Boro do have is a miserly defence. They’ve frustrated us once already this season in a 0-0 draw at Emirates Stadium in October, and have conceded only 17 times in 15 home games.
“We face what we’ve faced recently,” said Wenger. “We faced West Brom and Crystal Palace where we had 70 per cent of the ball. We want to make more with our possession and we also want to be tight at the back.
“The good news is that Laurent Koscielny will come back, Petr Cech will come back into the team, so that’s two experienced players who should help to make it a bit more tranquil and make us a bit more confident.
“When we have possession we need to have a good pace and accuracy, but as well penetration. What we have lacked a little bit is in the final ball because we’ve had many crosses.”
CALUM’S ‘POSITIVE YEAR’
Calum Chambers has been part of Boro’s defensive success story this season but he’s been out of action since February – and besides is not eligible to face his parent club.
Middlesbrough (h) – Bitesize
All the same, it’s been a productive and positive year for the England under-21 international.
“I think he is a player who is a good reader of the game and of course I believe where you improve at his age is in the quality of the challenges, in the dominance of the challenges, in taking responsibility when you have the ball to play and in making no stupid mistakes,” said the boss.
“You reduce the defensive errors and that is a very important process in the development of a centre back. It’s irreplaceable to play one season in the Premier League.
“The target for him was to play in the Premier League a full season. He has done that extremely well because he was a regular player and achieved that. It’s of course very positive. Overall he has played most of the time as a centre back and that’s a big responsibility in the Premier League.”
‘WE ARE IN A FIGHT’
Here’s a chilling statistic: we haven’t lost five consecutive top-flight away games since Boxing Day 1984.
Only two members of our squad who have appeared in the Premier League this season were even alive back then – Cech, who was two years and 220 days old, and Santi Cazorla, who was a mere 13 days old.
Santi can’t influence tonight’s result at the Riverside Stadium but Cech might be able to, and the boss is convinced that the team will turn up this time.
“We are in a fight where we have always responded well at the end of the season in the past,” he said. “We are now in the final part of the season where we want to give absolutely everything.
“We had two positive games before Palace – against Manchester City and West Ham. We failed in the quality of our performance against Crystal Palace, so let’s go back to what we did before.”
More polls and quizzes coming soon…
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