Arsene Wenger believes his players’ mental strength will determine whether Arsenal can finish the season on a high.
Wenger’s side will attempt to tighten their grip on third place in the Premier League when West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
That London derby comes five days after the Gunners recorded a memorable FA Cup victory at Manchester United to set up a Wembley semi-final against Reading or Bradford.
And next week the north Londoners will attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit when they travel to Monaco for a Champions League last 16 second leg tie.
If Wenger’s players can retain the Cup and finish in the top four, they will have successfully built on their efforts of last season when the FA Cup final triumph over Hull marked an end to the club’s nine-year trophy-drought.
But should they fall short and finish the season empty-handed and outside the top four, the criticism frequently directed at Wenger will be heard once again.
The Arsenal manager accepts the pressure on his team is greater now but says it is down to the players to respond positively.
“We can only help so much, 99 per cent is down to the individual,” Wenger said.
“We can push them over the line with the one per cent we can give, but 99 per cent is them having the responsibility to make their own life.
“You have to stand up to be strong enough, to fight, to show that you have the courage and that you’re not inhibited because you’re under pressure, and that’s the difficulty of the modern player.
“That has increased and the resistance to stress from the young players is immense today because everything is analysed. Every pass you make, every first touch, how far you run, how much you fight, everything.
“There is a verdict on everything so that kind of stress has increased and it’s much more difficult to deal with than it was a few years ago.
“Twenty years ago you could lose a game and people would say, ‘Next time Arsenal will play better’. Today you lose a game and it is always a crisis. It’s not easy for the players to deal with that.”
– Physical games –
Wenger insists his team selection against the Hammers will not be influenced by the looming Monaco game despite his side’s tiredness.
“We were at a high level of fatigue because we played against Monaco, Everton, QPR, Manchester United, all very physical games,” he said.
“I will have to test medically, physically, how the players are on Friday, and I will make my decision then. The big priority is of course West Ham.”
West Ham are likely to be without striker Enner Valencia, who cut his big toe after an accident at home.
Hammers manager Sam Allardyce said: “Enner has had an accident at home and has cut his big toe quite severely on a broken cup.
“We’re not exactly certain but we think it will be too soon for him be considered for the game at Arsenal on Saturday.
“It was a freak accident at a time when we could have done without it due to our lack of available strikers.”
Centre-back Winston Reid is out with a hamstring problem but Alex Song is expected to be fit to face his former club.
“I watched Arsenal’s game away at Manchester United and everyone could see the quality they have,” Allardyce said.
“We know how difficult it is at the Emirates, where we’ve actually gone in front a few times but not managed to hold on.
“We’ll go there and give it our best shot and see what happens. We’ll try and do what we did against Chelsea and see if that’s good enough to get us a result.”
Photo Credits : AFP