London, United Kingdom, Dec 25 – Arsene Wenger knows Arsenal have no margin for error when they attempt to revive their Premier League title challenge against West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
The visit of Tony Pulis’s side to the Emirates Stadium presents the Gunners with an opportunity to bounce back after successive defeats to Everton and Manchester City that have undermined their claim to be genuine challengers this season.
It wasn’t simply the defeats, but the manner of the losses in games when Wenger’s side led on both occasions only to be overwhelmed by their opponents’ greater strength.
The performances led to accusations that, despite a promising start to the season in both the Premier League and the Champions League, Arsenal remain flawed and incapable of pulling off the right result when it mattered most.
Bearing the brunt of that criticism was Mesut Ozil, the playmaker whose contribution had been praised during the opening months of the campaign before the Germany international produced two sub-par performances.
Wenger, though, is happy with the 28-year-old World Cup winner’s contribution — although Ozil is yet to commit himself to a new contract — and insists the explanation for his team’s dip lies elsewhere.
“I don’t give Mesut any leeway when the team doesn’t have possession,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“He has to do his job like everybody else and usually he does it well.
“His main strength is of course when we have the ball and he suffers more when we don’t have it.
“At City, he suffered more than others because we didn’t have enough of the ball. Unfortunately, if you want to have the ball, you have to win it back.
“He is a guy who works much harder than people think and his body language goes a bit against him sometimes.
“We are a team who win the ball back high up the pitch very well, which means he and Alexis Sanchez do their part of the job very well.
“We have to respond. Mesut Ozil is an important player, a big player, and the big players always respond to criticism on the pitch.”
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to miss out after picking up an injury at City and Welsh international midfielder Aaron Ramsey faces a fitness test regarding a hamstring problem.
– ‘Bobbing along okay’ –
West Brom head for the Emirates Stadium with boss Tony Pulis happy with his team’s form despite a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United last weekend.
Pulis’s men have lost just twice in their last seven games but the Welshman is already looking at potential reinforcements in the January transfer window.
“I know where we are at the moment and we’re bobbing along okay,” said Pulis, who could be without key midfielder James Morrison who has had a bout of flu.
“What we’ve got to do is try to improve it this (transfer) window if we can and keep it going and hopefully every window from that point onwards we will get those one or two quality players that we need all the time.”
Pulis, who launched a bid this week for Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, has urged players unable to get into the starting XI at bigger clubs to consider joining the Baggies for regular football.
“This is a very good club to be at, it’s an opportunity to come here and play,” he said.
“Jonny Evans is one example of someone who couldn’t get into (Manchester) United’s team, now he’s been talked of in terms of Arsenal and Liverpool, the press are talking about him being one of their targets.
“It gives them the opportunity to play and that for me is what it’s all about.”