7th April 2016: Wenger on team news, reluctance to rotate and learning from Leicester

Evening all. It seems like an age since we last heard from Arsene Wenger but the boss was back in front of the press this morning as he held his pre-West Ham press conference and discussed everything from team news to transfer speculation and lots in between.

I’ll start with the latest on our injury list ahead of our trip to Upton Park on Saturday and the big news is that Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini “could” return to action against the Hammers. Here’s what Arsene had to say:

We have a similar squad available. Ramsey could join the squad again because he had a good training session on Wednesday and would normally have a final test on Friday. There’s a possibility he could be back in the squad. Flamini is in a similar situation to Ramsey. Santi and Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] are the only injuries now. At the moment we [are waiting] on Alex coming back to fitness and Santi to practise. They should not be too far. Overall, the injury situation looks quite good. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere will play for the under-21s on Friday night.

To be honest, even if Ramsey is deemed ready to return, I can’t see how he gets back in the side at the moment because Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi’s recent form surely makes them impossible to leave out. The former’s passing, and blossoming partnership with Francis Coquelin in the middle of the park has been, as far as I’m concerned, the catalyst for our transformation from a bit of a misfiring shambles, into a fluently functioning and winning team again. So that’s one of Ramsey’s roles unavailable.

Then there’s the right hand side where Alexis Sanchez is currently playing, in part because he’s struggled on the left but also to accommodate Alex Iwobi, who’s impact in the three starts he’s been afforded in our last three games has made him integral to our threat in the final third. It’s a little unexpected, but right now the reality is that the only member of our British core worthy of a starting place is the one who will, in all probability, start against the Hammers – Danny Welbeck.

It was unsurprising then, given the above, that Arsene explained he was unlikely to change what’s been a winning formula for him of late, whilst also maintaining the title race was still far from decided. He said:

I’m always reluctant to change what works. [It is] down to the confidence gained from our last two games. Team play has improved in those games and our game is based on mobility, speed and technique. We have found a good balance in our game. We know that we need nearly the perfect run and we know as well that we don’t look only in front of us, we look behind us as well. We are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us so we have just to focus on our performance and hope we finish [the season] in a very strong way. As long as it’s mathematically possible, there’s a strong possibility [Arsenal can catch Leicester]. You look at the difficulty of the Premier League and they have been very consistent but every game is very, very tight. That can go the other way.

And speaking of the Foxes, the boss cited their shock surge for the Premier League crown this season as vindication for his long-held and often-criticized belief that money doesn’t guarantee success. He said:

What we learn from Leicester City is what I knew for a long time, which is that it’s not just only down to the amount of money you spend. It’s down to the quality of players you bring in and sometimes the opportunities are not always necessarily linked with the amount of money. If you look well, they finished very strongly last season and on top of that they brought some players in who have given them something more, like N’Golo Kante. He had a huge impact. We have spoken about [West Ham’s] Dimitri Payet – you could say along with Payet he is one of the players who had a big impact in this league.

He’s right of course, money alone doesn’t secure silverware, but it sure as hell helps. The other thing is that more than once after we’ve lost to the likes of Chelsea in the past he’s come out post-game and witheringly said something like, “They use their money well”, suggesting his team were beaten by a cheque book rather than the wit of an opposing manager. I love Arsene but he can’t have it both ways …

That’ll do for tonight.

See you on Friday folks.

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