Arsenal desperate to stop the rot

Visit to in-form AC Milan a tough task for a side understandably short of confidence

Arsène Wenger: “In  the longer term, it will make the team even stronger.” Photograph:  Adam Davy/PA Wire

Arsène Wenger: “In the longer term, it will make the team even stronger.” Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire

 

Arsène Wenger has urged his players “not to forget” their qualities as they head into the Europa League tie that represents their last chance to salvage a stricken season.

Arsenal arrived in Milan at a low enough ebb for their captain, Laurent Koscienly, to bring up the dreaded phrase “negative spiral” before a difficult challenge at San Siro.

“We need to be together,” Koscielny said. “That’s the most important. It doesn’t matter what’s going on outside. We are in a negative spiral and it’s difficult to get out of this. We need to have positive advice in our heads because the brain dictates to the body and the legs. We have to be positive to have a good result and step by step we will come back stronger.”

Wenger acknowledged this has been a very deflating period for his team.

“First of all we are a bit affected by what happened. These players want to win, but in life you forget quickly how good you are. When you have a bad week players change their mind about their qualities. We have to not forget we have good players. We have to fix reachable targets, be pragmatic, focus on what we can do better and not to be too scared about the consequences of a bad result. We need to defend better, play quicker and do more things together.”

The psychological state of a team who have lost four successive matches – against Östersund, Manchester City (twice) and Brighton – underpinned Arsenal’s preparations.

“This is an opportunity we have to take, of course,” Wenger added.

“It increases the pressure even more on this competition. At the moment, it is certainly difficult when you go through a patch like that but I believe as well it is a good opportunity to show you have the quality and the strengths. You can only show that when it is difficult. In the longer term, it will make the team even stronger.”

This last-16 tie may do that. Conversely it may make things worse.

A contrast

In a way, confronting Milan at this moment provides a contrast that is gnawingly close to the bone given Arsenal’s predicament, with Wenger’s powers of motivation under scrutiny.

Milan, who needed two qualifying rounds to get into this Europa League campaign and had a mediocre run until recently, have been rejuvenated in results and spirit since Gennaro Gattuso took over as manager. Unbeaten in 12 games, their game has been marked by an upbeat energy and infectious commitment.

Wenger, asked if he had any advice for an up-and-coming coach, resorted to self-deprecating humour.

“I don’t give him much advice. I’m not doing well so I can get advice from him.”

San Siro, one of football’s most historic amphitheatres, has been the venue for one of Arsenal’s most calamitous European nights when they were defeated 4-0 in 2012, but also one of their most celebrated under Wenger, when a young team built around the precociousness of Cesc Fàbregas and Abou Diaby beat opponents who were then the European Cup holders 2-0 in 2008.

A crowd of around 70,000 is expected, roughly 50,000 more than has attended most of Milan’s Europa League matches this season.

The home side, who did not play over the weekend, are rested and ready. Arsenal travelled without their most accomplished full backs Héctor Bellerín and Nacho Monreal, and with Danny Welbeck again the only available experienced striker.

– Guardian

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