Wenger warns of Wigan threat
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned his players not to assume victory will come easy against Wigan Athletic tomorrow. Roberto Martinez's men may sit one off the bottom of the table having lost eight successive matches earlier in the season, but last weekend's stoppage-time win at Sunderland has lifted morale.
The Gunners head to the DW Stadium having climbed the Premier League table on the back of five wins and a draw, but Wenger insists victory cannot be taken for granted at a venue which has proved a tough hunting ground in the past. "They are not [formalities]. The last couple of seasons, they have come back twice, where Wigan showed spirit and quality," said Wenger. "Their pitch has always been quite difficult in winter, but let's hope this time it will be all right.
"They play good football so it's always a difficult game for us. This year we have no choice - we want to win to take the three points tomorrow. Wigan will be good opposition again. For us we just need to focus on our performance and try to win the game."
After winning five on the spin to close back on the top four, Arsenal were left frustrated by last weekend's 1-1 home draw against Fulham which was followed by Tuesday night's League Cup exit to Manchester City. However, with the Gunners already safely in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League ahead of next week's final group games, Wenger feels there are plenty of positives heading into 2012.
"The whole view is that after a bad start we are back in contention to fight for the Champions League places," he said. "We are not at the moment [fighting] for the championship, but our target is to get back into that position. We had a disappointing draw last week and we want of course to come back and continue our run. For the rest it looks like there is a group of seven or eight teams who will fight until the end for the championship - with Manchester City looking like the favourites at the moment. It is early in the season."
Wenger accepts Arsenal are heading into "a very important month" - but perhaps with a slight advantage over their rivals. He said: "What you forget is that we could have been in a position where we absolutely had to win at Olympiacos to qualify. We have at least achieved one target in the month of December. We go to Olympiacos top of the group and completely qualified so we can focus on the Premier League. This month we have to dedicate completely to the Premier League and focus on every single game like a cup final."
One of the positives to come out of the midweek defeat by a much-changed City side - with £35m substitute Sergio Aguero coming off the bench to net a late winner - was another all-action display by teenage midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So far, Wenger has been conservative with the use of the £10m summer signing from Southampton, who scored on his Champions League debut against Olympiacos in September.
The 18-year-old's only taste of Premier League action to date came as substitute in the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford. Wenger, though, feels it will not be long before Oxlade-Chamberlain is a regular in the first-team squad. "He is still in a period where training every day with top players is important for him to improve," he said.
"Alex has quality when he plays in games - he is not fazed by the importance of them and is the kind of personality that makes you think he can play on the big stage. I have no restriction at all for me, if I need him he will play. I don't think it is too early for him to play anymore."
It has been suggested Oxlade-Chamberlain could have a chance to be included in the senior England squad for UEFA EURO 2012. Wenger said: "I would like to see that yes, but let's go step by step. In England you always take the fast-track. To go to the European Championships you need experience in the Premier League, so it is important he gets that first."