Gunners ready to fire both barrels

January 26, 2006

Arsene Wenger feels it is only a matter of time before Arsenal find the consistency which will see the Gunners' campaign 'explode' back to life.

Wenger takes his depleted squad to Bolton for Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie looking to erase the disappointment of the midweek Carling Cup semi-final second leg, with Jason Roberts's late goal sending Wigan through.

Empics / MikeEgertonAhsley Cole will miss the cup match leaving Arsenal short of left-back options.

Captain Thierry Henry felt the game - in which Arsenal missed a first-half penalty before going on to take the overall lead in the tie at 2-0 - was a microcosm of the season so far for the north-London club.

It had looked like Wenger's side were slowly finding their form on regular basis again after a promising unbeaten run over the festive season.

However, the 1-0 loss at Everton last weekend saw the Gunners slip further behind in the race for a top-four finish in the Premiership, which would bring with it the prospect of a place in the Champions League again next season.

Wenger has made it clear overhauling Tottenham - whom they trail by four points but have a match in hand - is now his domestic priority, and as such the FA Cup holders are likely to filed a somewhat inexperienced side at the Reebok this weekend.

But whatever Arsenal XI had played, they would have expected a tough examination regardless from Sam Allardyce's men - and Wenger knows it is the outcome of such encounters in the Premiership which will now shape the rest of their season.

'We are ready to perform again, and we are ready to be a real threat again. Now all we need is some consistency in order to strengthen that belief,' the Arsenal boss said.

'Spirit-wise I believe the team is on track, and we just felt we needed a little spark to completely explode. We got that at home against Middlesbrough, and I'm confident we can do it away as well.'

Wenger reflected in the Arsenal matchday programme: 'I believe that our away form so far this season is down to a number of factors.

'What we need to add to our game is a mixture of belief, of playing in a positive way, and physical domination - it is all linked together.

'What you can say of our defeats away from home this season is that each time the margin between winning and losing has been very small.

'But at the moment things are not going our way, and it's vital that we change it over the next few weeks.

'We have to add the ingredients that are missing from our game and I am confident we will do that.

'I can not deny that the defeats that have been repeated many times this season is not a coincidence.

'We need to change something in our approach, which is not only down to the system, but more to do with our mental and physical attitude.'

Wenger has enjoyed his own love affair with the world's oldest knockout competition since arriving in England during September 1996, lifting the cup four times.

The French coach, however, has admitted their FA Cup endeavours have on occasions left Arsenal wanting in Europe, with last season's energy-sapping fifth-round clash with Sheffield United preceding the Champions League defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.

The Arsenal manager has made it clear he does not intend to let the same scenario happen again.

But before their forthcoming clash with Real Madrid, tough Premiership fixtures against West Ham, Birmingham, Bolton again and Liverpool await, not to mention a potential fifth-round cup tie on February 18.

Defender Lauren and Henry will be omitted on Saturday because of concerns over their hamstrings, although centre-back Sol Campbell is set to be in the squad following an injury to Gilberto.

Ashley Cole (thigh), Gael Clichy (foot), Pascal Cygan (hamstring) and Cesc Fabregas (suspended) are missing, while Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor are away at the African Nations Cup.

All of which leaves Wenger with something of a defensive headache, particularly on the left side of defence, although youngster Kerrea Gilbert could be asked to switch flanks or Johan Djourou could be brought into the side.

'Gilberto is a big doubt because of a calf problem,' Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

'Sol Campbell will play but the others will be rested.

'Ashley Cole and Pascal Cygan are still out. I don't know who will play left-back especially. We will see on Friday.'

The saga over Cole's tapping-up row, meanwhile, is unlikely to have ended, despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling they had no jurisdiction to hear the Arsenal defender's appeal against the £75,000 fine imposed for his part in the affair.

The England left-back's legal advisors are now assessing the options open to them before deciding how to proceed in light of the CAS statement.

They believe the punishment for meeting with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho - who was also fined for his part in the affair - and chief executive Peter Kenyon amounts to a restraint of trade, and could take the case on through the British, or indeed European, legal system.