Arsène Wenger believes Arsenal averted a “problem” by beating Liverpool 2-0 on Saturday, and was hugely impressed by the manner in which they overcame the “doubt” created in the midweek Capital One Cup defeat to Chelsea.
“It was a huge test because it came after two home defeats and [with] another one then you create another problem against Manchester United [on Sunday]. You could see at the start we were focused but a bit nervous and we put Dortmund and Chelsea on the front foot ourselves. You could feel at the start that the players did not want to do that at all. After we scored you could see that we controlled the game.
“The players believe, of course. Every win makes you stronger. Tuesday raised a little bit of doubt, but not so much because many players did not play. When you lose, the players that do not play don’t drop their confidence. They raise their hopes.”
It was the swagger that Arsenal displayed in the victory, emphasised by the sheer quality of the goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, that so marked this performance out. In previous seasons, defeats such as those to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea would have disrupted confidence for some time, creating the “problem” that Wenger alluded to. On Saturday, Arsenal bounced right back.
“It creates a bit more belief. They might give us a bit more credit that will re-inforce the belief,” he said. “We were more balanced than on Tuesday. These big games are decided by one or two positions. Today in every single position, we had players who could turn in a top performance.”
It has left Arsenal top of the league, and five points clear. Wenger was asked what he would have thought had such a position been put to him after the opening-day home defeat.
“After the Aston Villa game, if I had told you that, I would have had to run away because you would have killed me! It shows you it can change quickly. It should alert us that we should not go the other way and keep good focus and continue to develop our team. There is still room for improvement.
“Ten games, 25 per cent of the season. You can see trends but it is still not settled yet. At the end of November you will have a clearer idea.”
Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, now has a clearer idea of where his team stand. The Liverpool manager marvelled at Arsenal’s midfield movement, and intimated it would take time to reach that quality without “major investment”.
“The better team won, make no mistake. Arsenal have wonderful technicians, good mobility, [Mesut] Özil is world class. Ramsey has taken his game to another level, [Mikel] Arteta is a good player, Cazorla joining in, [Tomas] Rosicky – five players who are top-class technicians and we had three.
“They have real good quality and they are at a high level and have been for a number of years. For us to be where we are shows we have a fighting chance. The plan is to stay there [in the top four]. We’re trying to build something here. Without major investment, it just takes a bit of time.
“You compare that to Arsenal playing Napoli. I was here. That was at the very top end of the Champions League. They went very close against Borussia Dortmund.”
For the return Champions League fixture against the Germans on Wednesday, Arsenal will assess Jack Wilshere’s fitness on Monday. The midfielder was left out of the Liverpool game with a recurrent ankle injury.
“I don’t know. I will follow the medical advice,” Wenger said. “We will see on Monday morning how he is. It’s very important that we respond well against Dortmund. It’s a big game, let’s recover first and I’m sure the team will go there with a great desire.”
Wenger did joke about the difference in challenges both teams faced. While Arsenal had to raise themselves against Liverpool, Dortmund coasted to a 6-1 win over Stuttgart on Friday.
“I watched the first half but after 20 minutes I knew it would be too easy a game for them. I wanted something more testing. Unfortunately they had a good friendly!”