sunday,25 october 2009


Intelligent, humble, courteous and hugely respected by those outside their clubs – Arsène Wenger and Gianfranco Zola have much in common. However the two men are divided by very different problems right now.
Only a desperate last-minute equaliser by AZ Alkmaar on Tuesday night prevented Arsenal extending their winning run to eight games. However Wenger’s side are still top of Champions League Group H and one win in the last three games will see them reach the requisite ten points they need to qualify.

Meanwhile the Emirates Stadium outfit moved into the top four of the Premier League with a 3-1 win at Birmingham last weekend. They have “turned up” in every game they have played this season – even those increasingly forgotten defeats in Manchester.

Poised and increasingly-confident, Wenger’s fledgling outfit are defying the critics who said the manager had not spent enough of his ample funds in the summer.

Contrast that with West Ham, who have picked up just two points since the opening day of the season. Zola’s squad has lost significant experience in the past year and it has been suggested the club will be sold as soon as the cash-strapped Icelandic owners receive a palatable offer. Either way, money is tight at Upton Park.

Not surprisingly, Wenger expressed a measure (but only a measure) of compassion for his opposite number ahead of their meeting this weekend in East London.

“I have a big deal of sympathy for Zola,” he said. “Until Sunday.

“I believe he is doing well but, of course, like a lot of teams they have had to cut their expenses. Then it becomes more difficult.
“Still I believe no matter what kind of players you have it is always important to play in a positive way because it’s the best way to be successful. I think that is what he tries to do.

“He had good results at the end of last season. This season he has had less good results but there is still a long way to go.

“It’s more of a negative pressure for him right now,” Wenger went on. “The pressure at the top is high as well because every time you go into a game, you know if you don’t win it, it’s a disaster. At the bottom of the table, if you don’t win the worst can happen to the club and you feel a bit more responsible for the safety of the club.

“But, more than anything, I must say that in this job, you worry about you. You respect everybody else but you worry about your team. So what is important for me on Sunday is Arsenal and how Arsenal do.”

EmiratesWenger will test Nicklas Bendtner’s groin again in training on Saturday before making a decision. Like the Dane, Tomas Rosicky (knee) was 50:50 on Thursday however the latter has already been ruled out.

Eduardo is OK after pulling that troublesome thigh muscle again. Philippe Senderos is likely to be added to the squad meanwhile, for the first time this season, Wenger has all three keepers available. His decision in that position promises to be illuminating.

At Thursday’s AGM, the manager spoke with forceful optimism about the season ahead. He was convinced that his first trophy since 2005 would arrive this term. On Friday, he revealed why.

“The quality of the team and the attitude they have every day in training,” he replied to the very question. “That’s why I am convinced.

“I look at all the other games across Europe and I do not see why we should not believe that.

However football’s pessimists are rarely disappointed and the manager used a little humour to deflect the odd nay-sayer who was leaning toward cynicism.

“If, if, if…,” he replied to one questioner. “If it rains tomorrow, we will still train.

“I know it is always your job to be negative, but it is my job to be positive.

“Yes [my definition] depends what, for you, is winning a trophy. For example is winning the Carling Cup more difficult than to go to the Semi-Finals of the Champions League?

“Still if you take last year and put it into perspective, it was not a bad season. We were in two Semi-Finals and we didn’t go out against any small teams – we went out against strong teams.

“The big problem we had last year is that very early we were out of the race for the title. In a big club, you need to be extremely strong because you get a lot of negative vibes. When you do not start well at a big club in the race for the Premier League, it’s all negative around you. What is happening to Liverpool today happened to us last year and every single question was negative for the whole season.”

Positivity, of course, is a slave to performances and results. Dispatching West Ham on Sunday will not insulate Wenger from negative questions next week or prove he is correct in everything he says.

But another ruthless display will certainly suggest his side means business.   



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