“You always think about the psychological impact of the last result on the morale of the team, as well as the confidence and happiness of everybody. You think the only way to deal with it is to just focus on the next one and win it, then everything will be alright.
“And, if we can win this game, what about the next one? If we play at our best, yes we can win that, so let’s do it. It is very difficult to have a global plan because as we know we are in a job that is unpredictable. The best way to make it predictable is to win the next game.”
That’s Arsène Wenger after being asked about his overall strategy for four massive matches in 11 massive days starting this weekend at Liverpool.
His answer, in a roundabout yet eloquent way, was that he is “taking each game as it comes”.
This all-too familiar truism does not make great headlines but it will serve to shield his side from pressure at a crucial time.
Those of us who study fixture lists will have identified two key runs in the final third of the season – from early to mid-February (Liverpool H, Manchester United H, Liverpool A, Bayern Munich H) and mid- to late March (Bayern Munich A, Tottenham A, Chelsea A, Manchester City H).
They will not necessarily be decisive but they will surely be highly influential.
The same was true when Liverpool came to Emirates Stadium at the start of November. Arsenal had been top for six weeks but their title aspirations were perceived flimsy by some and Brendan Rodgers’ high-flying side were the first real test. According to Wenger, the 2-0 win was an important confirmation for his side.
“It certainly strengthened our position in the league at that time and our belief that we had an interesting role to play in this league, because Liverpool are a good side,” he said. “From then on, we went from strength to strength.”
It was also the only Premier League game in which Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge started together yet did not score a goal between them. The tussle between, arguably, the best attack and best defence in the Premier League is at the heart of the encounter this weekend.
“They are a good duo,” said Wenger. “Both of them can score, give assists and are good dribblers. Once a team has those kinds of strengths and variety in attacking they are always dangerous.
“Liverpool are in the race. I think they are eight points behind us so of course they are in in there. They have a strong offensive potential as we know. I believe the quality of our defensive game will be very important in the end result on Saturday afternoon.”
That clean sheet back in November was perhaps the first indication of the defensive stability that has been the bedrock of Arsenal’s season. They have conceded four goals in their last 10 games and have been ‘binary’ in the Premier League since the opening day with the exception of the trips to Manchester City and Southampton.
Arsenal: Flamini (suspension), Ramsey (thigh), Walcott (knee), Diaby (knee), Sanogo (match fitness), Kallstrom (back)
Liverpool: Johnson (ankle), Lucas (knee), Agger (shin), Sakho (hamstring), Enrique (knee)
Chelsea’s victory at the Etihad Stadium kept Arsenal two points clear of both chasing teams. A win at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime would send Wenger’s men at least 10 points in front of the fourth-placed side. However the manager refuses to name the runners and riders in the title race until the final furlongs of the campaign.
“We’ll have to wait until the end of February to have the exact idea of who will fight for the Premier League,” he said. “It’s an important month for many teams and maybe we will need a bit of patience.
“Still,” he concluded, “it is a good moment for us to win a big game because we have a tough predicted month. At the moment we are on a good run and the best way to continue that is to keep the confidence level high and, of course, stay in a strong position in the title race.”