Arsenal were beaten by 2-1 at St. James’ Park last weekend, and as they prepare to take on West Ham on Sunday at the Emirates, manager Arsene Wenger provided a few updates.
The first point on the agenda was the fitness situation in the team. The manager revealed that goalkeeper David Ospina is back, Henrikh Mkhitaryan isn’t yet, and Jack Wilshere is a doubt due to an ankle issue. Aaron Ramsey is available despite the fact he hasn’t trained fully with the team.
Wenger explained his approach to team selection for the last few and the next few games. Some players were rested after the 2-all draw in Moscow and now they need game-time to prepare for next Thursday, while others played last weekend and may be rested now. The Europa League is the absolute priority at this point. The Gunners have very little to play for in the Premier League according to the manager. He also pointed out that the season has been good at home, while the results away from the Emirates is the task the team has failed.
Not disputing Atletico Madrid as the favourites to win the competition, Wenger believes Arsenal can beat them on their day. Winning the Europa League would be good, but first, they need to beat a very big opponent over two legs.
Another thing Wenger has revealed is that he’s not worried about his future at the moment. Right now his biggest priority is to get a taste of success into what has been an underwhelming season so far. Also, he doesn’t put much relevance into whose decision his future at the club will be, but he accepts full responsibility for the team’s results.
Asked about the atmosphere at the Emirates, Wenger praised the fans contribution and pointed to the fact that the stadium is sold out for every game, as well as that the renewal numbers are “outstanding”.
The next issue the manager addressed is the situation with Wilshere’s contract. He said he had no news to give at the moment. A long-term contract offer is on the table and the club want him to stay, but the player hasn’t put pen to paper yet. Wenger adds that he isn’t thinking about a potential replacement yet. He is, however, thinking about new signings for the summer, but the transfers will start happening after the World Cup and that is still some way off.
Arsenal aim to finish the season on a high, ahead of Burnley, but Wenger praised the work of the Clarets’ boss Sean Dyche, saying that he and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola stand out from the rest this season. The relegation-threatened teams give short-term contracts to managers, and the Frenchman defines it as a Premier League trend, mentioning Moyes, Allardyce and Hughes as examples.
The manager is still unsure whether Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will play on Sunday. As he is unavailable for Thursday, on one hand, it would make sense to use him against West Ham, but on the other, as this game is to be a part of the preparations for Atletico, it would also make sense to drill the team without him.
Asked for an update on Santi Cazorla, Wenger said he hasn’t seen him since the League Cup final as the midfielder is in Spain for rehabilitation, and that it’s not yet known whether he will take part in any games this season.
In the end, the manager was asked whether he was in favour of safe standing.
“I am in favour. The atmosphere is much better. You imagine if people were lying in a bed, they could fall asleep. It is better if they stand. It is a tradition of English football. I can understand why they don’t but if the safety is right, they have my 100 percent backing.”
The Gunners can be backed at 8/15 to beat the Hammers on Sunday.