Arsene Wenger Readies Arsenal for Season-Defining Fixtures

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Arsene Wenger Readies Arsenal for Season-Defining Fixtures
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Arsenal, coming off the back of a Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund, are about to begin the toughest and most testing part of their season, and Arsene Wenger has plenty of work to do.

Between now and January 1, the Gunners have 15 incredibly difficult matches to traverse. They face Crystal Palace this weekend (Oct. 26) in what really should be a gimme, despite Palace having just departed company with Ian Holloway, per the Irish Independent.

The Gunners then run headlong into a storm that will see them face:

The defeat to Jurgen Klopp's team represents the first time this season that Arsenal have been questioned. Dortmund were superior for long periods of the game and made the Premier League leaders look limited.

To The Gunners' credit, they forced their way back into the game and deservedly equalized. They were, however, out-thought by their more experienced foes.

Knowing the uphill task his team are about to take on, Arsenal's manager, Wenger, quite cleverly decided to fire a shot across the bows of certain players.

The 64-year-old Frenchman said their defeat was the result of naivete. Talking to BBC after the game, he said:

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We put ourselves on the back foot with the first goal and were naive for the second...We can only look at ourselves as not being mature enough in those situations. If you can't win the game, don't lose it.

These sage words are obviously aimed at Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta and Laurent Koscielny.

For the opening goal, Arteta's lazy lay-off put Ramsey in all kinds of trouble on the edge of his own box. The Welshman still had the chance to hammer the ball clear, but he somehow decided the best option was to dribble his way out of danger.

When the ball was recovered by Marco Reus, Koscielny immediately charged to close down the ball when Arteta and Per Mertesacker were closer and in better positions.

The French international left Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was then slipped in to fire home the opening goal.

The second goal was poor in the sense that Gibbs was caught completely out of position. Going into the match, Gibbs would have been well versed in Dortmund's tactics and would surely have known that 41 percent of all their attacks emanate down his side of the pitch.

Playing against a quality side such as Dortmund is hard enough without giving away cheap goals.

It was testament to how much Dortmund dictated the tempo of the game that Jack Wilshere heaped praise on the Bundesliga side. He told UEFA:

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They are a good team. They came here and wanted to play. They are difficult to break down as well, they have good team shape. We wanted to get Mesut [Ozil] on the ball but they made it difficult for us. They played well, fair play to them.

Now we have to bounce back from that.

 

Wenger's "naive" dig at the team is a gentle effort to get his players to re-focus their attentions. He is fully aware that if results over the next two months go against them, then their great start to the season will count for nothing.

In years gone by Wenger has tried everything to motivate his team following defeats. He has lashed his team, cajoled them, put his arm around their shoulders and is now using a gentle nudge.

If the Dortmund defeat is followed swiftly by another, he might have to use a shove.

Earlier this season, Arsenal lost to Aston Villa. The opening-day defeat was written off by the Frenchman as being a day where anything that could go wrong did go wrong. This likely had a huge psychological effect on his team as it removed all blame from their shoulders.

Remember, this was the opening game of the campaign. It followed a summer of inactivity in the transfer market and fans were baying for blood. It was little wonder that the Gunners were booed off the pitch and heckled by the own fans.

In another time and place, this situation and result would have obliterated team spirit. Fans of the club were incandescent with anger.

Wenger's words, however, calmed the situation immediately and allowed his team to carry on as if nothing was wrong. It was an amazing piece of man and team management by the veteran. His two-and-a-half-minute interview set the foundation for a phenomenal run of 10 wins in a row.

His team needed a respite from the pressure they were under and his sage words gave them that. Now the weight of expectation has resurfaced following a 12-game run without a defeat. Many Arsenal fans now expect their team to challenge for the title next May.

After taking 19 points from eight games, the run of 10 Premier League fixtures between now and January 1 will determine their future.

Arsene Wenger knows this—and that is why he is readying his team for the challenge ahead.

 

Statistics from Arsenal.com, PremierLeague.com, UEFA.com and Soccerbase

 

You can find me on Twitter @WillieGannon

And listen to me on the Hold the Back Page podcast.

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