Amy Lawrence in Belgrade on 20 October 2017
Arsène Wenger has challenged the first-team regulars he left at home for Arsenal’s Europa League win in Belgrade to pick up the pieces of their domestic season. “We have to show that we can restart in the Premier League as well,” he said.
After last weekend’s horror show at Watford, Arsenal face Everton – another club with high aspirations feeling the heat – at Goodison Park on Sunday and the manager is demanding a strong response. Last season it proved to be a pivotal – and painful – fixture for Wenger’s side, ending an unbeaten league run that stretched for almost four months. Top of the table at the time, that stumble on Merseyside prompted a steady slip out of the top four.
Wenger was not keen to be reminded. “The game against Everton is just about the men on the pitch on Sunday and the quality that we can produce,” he said.
This season brings new territory for Arsenal as Wenger outlined how he has essentially decided to operate with two separate teams – one in the league and one for the cups. “It is impossible to come from a game of that intensity [in Belgrade] and play. Of course I left 10 or 11 players at home. I decided to rotate at the start of the season and will continue to do so,” he said before adding: “But the time will come when the rotation can go another way.”
He wants to keep the door open for performers who impress on any stage to force their way into the biggest matches. Of the crew who picked up three more Europa League points this week, one or two would expect to return to Premier League contention on Sunday despite returning to London in the early hours of Friday.
Petr Cech, who was dominant in goal in place of the injured David Ospina, will start at Everton and the goalscorer Olivier Giroud, who was close to a move to Everton over the summer, should be on the bench. The most intriguing case is Jack Wilshere, who again played with the intelligence and energy that is increasingly impossible to ignore. A Premier League start must come soon.
Danny Welbeck, who injured his groin at Watford, is unavailable for the rest of October. “He is out for two to three weeks – he won’t be back before the break,” said Wenger. “He has a groin injury. Laurent Koscielny will be all right, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez will be all right.”