LONDON – Arsenal demonstrated their powers of recovery midweek but Arsene Wenger knows a greater test lies ahead when they return to Premier League action at Southampton on Sunday.
Wenger and his players were left crushed following last weekend’s home defeat by Manchester United when they dominated periods of the game, producing 33 shots on goal, only to see Jose Mourinho’s team run out 3-1 winners.
A much changed line-up put that result behind them when the Gunners wrapped up their Europa League group-stage campaign with a 6-0 home victory over BATE Borisov with Jack Wilshere in particular pressing his claims for more Premier league action.
The meeting with Mauricio Pellegrino’s Saints side, however, is more significant than a dead rubber in Europe — Wenger’s side had already qualified for the knockout stage before the meeting with BATE — with the Gunners desperate to force their way back into the top four.
Wenger has been impressed with the way his side have fought back after trailing in a number of games this season and similar qualities will be required at St Mary’s Stadium.
“It’s down to the attitude of the players, the team mentality and I must say the united spirit the players have shown,” said Wenger.
“Their focus makes it an absolute pleasure to work with them on a daily basis.
“That’s the quality that will be needed until the end of the season because we play in the Premier League where you have to be focused in every single game.”
Wenger is in no doubt Southampton pose a threat to Arsenal’s hopes of returning to winning ways in the league.
“They have Charlie Austin back now, and of course they have players like Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond, Sofiane Boufal who are all very strong offensively,” he said.
“It is true that if you look at the number of goals they scored and the quality of their last two performances, it looks like they are coming back to a much more dangerous team.”
‘The most mature Wilshere’
Wenger must decide whether to hand Wilshere a first Premier League start of the campaign in the wake of his outstanding midweek display.
“The next step is for him to be competitive in the Premier League and to fight for his place in the team,” said Wenger.
“I would say this is the most mature Wilshere I have seen, in the game and outside the game. He is not excessive, he has taken a distance from the pressure that was always around him.”
Pellegrino’s side have shown signs of improvement recently, beating Everton and drawing with neighbours Bournemouth either side of a last-minute defeat at Manchester City, to move up to mid-table.
Boufal has played a more prominent role after spending the opening weeks on the bench and the Morocco international says he is now finding his feet.
“Yes, I need to progress, I need to be more consistent, I know this, but now the most difficult period is gone and now I look forward to the future,” said Boufal.