My Soccer World

English Premier League: Gunners Seek Balm For Emotional Scars

Posted on: November 8, 2008

LONDON: Arsene Wenger has endured some trying weeks in his last three, barren years as Arsenal manager but none, you suspect, as wretched as the past seven days.

Having watched aghast on Oct 29 as his side threw away a two-goal lead against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur on home soil, the French manager was then left seething by a defeat at newly-promoted Stoke City last Saturday.

It was not simply the result which so peeved Wenger, but the manner of it.

In the days that followed, the Arsenal manager raged at Stoke’s strong-arm tactics, labelling them “cowards” after three of his players — Bacary Sagna, Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor — hobbled away from the Britannia stadium with injuries.

Wenger’s suggestion that his squad had been deliberately injured by opponents incapable of matching Arsenal for talent enraged his Stoke counterpart Tony Pulis.
The subsequent war of words had still not died down by the time Arsenal suffered another evening of frustration in the Champions League on Wednesday, being held to a goalless home draw by Fenerbahce, a side they had demolished 5-2 just a fortnight before.

Now, with the dust still settling, Wenger must somehow re-focus and re-energise his bruised and bedraggled side ahead of a game against Manchester United which he has already labelled “must-win”.

Arsenal currently trail Chelsea, the league leaders, by six points and will be four points behind United, currently third, if they suffer a fourth league defeat of the season today.

“It is a massive game and of massive importance for us,” Wenger said. “We play every three days at the moment and every game is huge for us. Manchester United versus Arsenal is always a special one and we know for us it is vital to do well in the big games in this league. I am confident we will.”

Behind the bravado, however, Wenger must harbour doubts of a first league victory over United since Thierry Henry’s late goal sealed a 2-1 success in 2007.

His striking options have withered following the injury to Adebayor, who will miss the next two weeks with an ankle injury, while Robin van Persie is suspended following his idiotic lunge at Thomas Sorensen at Stoke.

With Walcott also doubtful, Wenger faces the queasy prospect of Nicklas Bendtner, the raw Danish striker, leading his line against the Premier League and European champions, with Mexican teenager Carlos Vela playing a supporting role.

It is not a partnership which will strike fear into the heart of United’s seasoned centrebacks, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

For all Wenger’s aesthetic principles, this might prove one of those occasions where Arsenal have to show their own ugly side to eke out points.

“We will show them we are still in the race for the title,” Kolo Toure, the defender, said.

“I played against United already and I know what I have to expect. I think it’s going to be a good game and we are still in there, fourth in the league. We just have to rely on our quality.”

United, for their part, are not under-estimating their old rivals.

Arsenal stretched United to the limits last season, holding them to a 2-2 draw and then outplaying them at Old Trafford, going ahead in the second half before falling to a late sucker-punch from Owen Hargreaves.

Had they held on to victory, the title may have winged its way to north London so United will be wary as they aim to become only the third side to win at the Emirates since Arsenal moved in two and a half years ago.

New Straits Times

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