While his Arsenal teams are known and praised for their attacking, offensive flair and attractive passing game, manager Arsene Wenger’s approach turned a bit “defensive” yesterday when addressing the differences between his side and the Premiership champions and when meeting with supporters gathered for an annual shareholders meeting to voice their comments and concerns with club management.
Arsenal travel to Old Trafford tomorrow to take on Manchester United in their second-to-last Premiership match this season. And while the Gunners’ place in the final league table has already been determined (at fourth), the North London side does have one thing to play for, as a road win would spoil United’s party of clinching the league title in front of home supporters.
With his team going into the contest having suffered heavy defeats in their last two outings, Arsene Wenger believes the Gunners “have a point to prove” when facing the team that ousted them from the Champions League a week ago.
But they’ll need to earn more than “a point” from the match to keep Manchester United from clinching the title tomorrow, as all the home side needs is a draw at Old Trafford to retain the Premiership crown.
With the disappointment still lingering among the club and its supporters after being denied a chance to play in the Champions League final, Wenger views Saturday’s clash “as more a matter of pride than a desire to poop the title party.
“We have a point to prove, definitely,” said the manager at Thursday’s press conference. “It looks like it will be Man United who win the league but we can still delay it. We want to play for our pride and be respected for who we are, that is people who love the game they play.”
“We promised ourselves on the first of January we would give everything in every game until the end of the season,” he continued. “This is where we can show we are capable to do that.”
Wenger also believes his side are closer to United than the 18-point gap currently seen between the two teams in the league table, citing defense as the difference for the side from Manchester.
“What people forget is that we were very far behind and we dropped too many points. Man United are world champions, European champions and will be champions of England,” claimed the manager. “Everybody has to cope with that, not accept it and come back next year and beat them.
“We have a very promising team who can deliver very soon,” added Wenger. “If you look at the statistics of the two teams, for example, we have scored a similar amount of goals. In the passing quality in the final third and in the opposition half, we are as good as Man United. We have conceded more goals and that’s where the difference lies.
“We have conceded 36, they have conceded 24; we have scored 64 and they have scored 67. Offensively, I do not believe there is a difference. Defensively, there was a difference.”
Speaking of the Arsenal defense, first-choice players Manuel Almunia, William Gallas and Gael Clichy are all unavailable for tomorrow’s match at Old Trafford. Defenders Gallas and Clichy are out for the season, while keeper Almunia does have a chance to return in the final league match versus Stoke City, according to Wenger.
The Gunners’ attack will see the return of Andrey Arshavin, who missed the Chelsea match with the flu and is now fully fit. This gives the Russian his first opportunity to face Manchester United in an Arsenal shirt, as he was Cup-tied for the Champions League this season and thus missed both semifinal round matches against the Red Devils.
Arshavin has been impressive in his first half-season at the Emirates after arriving in January for what has been reported as the club’s record transfer signing. Many Arsenal supporters are hoping the club splashes more cash this summer to bring in additional players to help improve the club that has gone four seasons without a trophy.
Wenger’s preferred youth policy and frugality in regard to transfers while managing the club were among the concerns voiced by supporters frustrated with the lack of silverware in recent years, who attended a shareholders meeting at which Wenger spoke on Thursday evening.
Addressing the issue, the manager criticized the negativity among supporters but did admit that his team must deliver in the coming campaigns. “It is easy to sit in the stands and say that they are not up for the fight,” he said. “But what they have done in this season in a negative environment shows what they can do.”
“If they don’t deliver in one or two years, then you can say that it was not the right thing to do. But at the moment this club needs the support of the people who love it,” claimed Wenger. “We want to run the club by respecting our financial values, respecting the game we want to play and developing the players that we have had for five years at this club.
“If we do not get there then I will stand up and be responsible,” added the manager. “But no one has done what this team has done at the average age they are now.”