Arsene Wenger spoke so much of spirit in his post-match conference at The Britannia this weekend, it was almost as if he was trying to convince himself that his Arsenal team possesses some. While a visit to Stoke may not be the fire and brimstone episode of the Tony Pulis era, it is still a physical challenge and the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have been torn apart there already this season. So it is a good point for Arsenal who dug in defensively at times to keep the home side out. Yet Wenger’s rhetoric afterwards suggested a man desperate to let everyone know just how resilient and strong his team now is. This is after all, the same team that collapsed 4-0 to Southampton and nearly messed up its Champions League campaign by the halfway point of the group stage. The league table tells us that Arsenal have indeed been more resilient than any other challenger so far this year, so Wenger’s words aren’t pie in the sky, though their rivals have left a lot to be desired. For Manchester City, with their vulnerability at the back, doomed manager and injury-hampered star striker, to be just one point off the pace set by the Gunners should be a warning sign. Wenger knows that this is the best chance his team will ever have to win the title and he has to convince them, and others, that they have the fighting qualities necessary. If they fail again the red half of north London may have to turn to a different type of spirit, the bottled kind, to numb the pain.
Dropping to the other end of the table, one of Wenger’s most trusted generals from his early time in England seemed to be following a very familiar script but slightly more hopelessly. Aston Villa’s Remi Garde claimed, “If you look at the two games we’ve played, we can be pleased about the spirit.” To be fair, it has been an unusually prosperous week for Villa. Bagging four points from two games should be enough to earn an open top bus parade through the city given the way things have been going this campaign. According to Garde it is the attitude that he has seen from his players this week that could see them stay up. Nothing to do with Wayne Hennessey having a horror show, Leicester missing a pen and a heavily deflected equaliser on Saturday evening then, Remi? Although to be fair to him, what’s the point of his post-match press conferences? If he comes out and says he thinks his side can stay up, we label him mad and delusional. If he comes out and says that Villa are destined for relegation, the fans turn on him and his treachery. All in all this season, Garde would probably be best served by another of his former manager’s penchants and claim that he “didn’t see it”. I don’t think anyone who has watched Villa over the past few years would blame him.
In other news, Louis van Gaal claimed Manchester United were back in the title race after the victory at Liverpool, a group of pigs were spotted flying over the Stretford End and Claudio Ranieri was ‘very sad’ to draw at Villa. Stop the press.