'Our job' to face pressure

Mesut Ozil juggling the ball as teammate Sead Kolasinac looks on during a training session. The German has barely featured for Arsenal this season, but has been included in the squad to face Liverpool in the League Cup tie.
Mesut Ozil juggling the ball as teammate Sead Kolasinac looks on during a training session. The German has barely featured for Arsenal this season, but has been included in the squad to face Liverpool in the League Cup tie. PHOTO: REUTERS

Emery backs under-fire Gunners to show strength, starting with Reds in League Cup

LONDON • Granit Xhaka has been left "devastated" by the confrontation with Arsenal fans on Sunday, but Gunners manager Unai Emery urged him to mend fences by apologising for his overreaction.

The Switzerland midfielder, who was voted captain by a secret ballot of his teammates last month, has enjoyed a fractious relationship with the Emirates faithful since joining in 2016 and his armband appointment did not go down well with many supporters.

Things reached a nadir over the weekend when Xhaka was hauled off in the second half in the 2-2 English Premier League draw with Crystal Palace. As he was booed off, he cupped his hand to his ear and was seen mouthing "f*** off" at the stands before storming down the tunnel.

While Emery refused to be drawn on whether Xhaka would stay as club captain, with many calling for him to be sacked, the Spaniard revealed at his pre-match press conference ahead of today's League Cup fourth-round trip to Liverpool that "he knows he was wrong".

He said: "It's not easy for him and for the team. He is now sad. We spoke yesterday, Sunday night and this morning. He is sad about that situation... he was wrong on Sunday and it was not the response of a captain.

"When we are in difficult moments and receiving some criticism, we need to be strong, to know and learn to play under that pressure. It's our work, our job.

"The supporters are the most important in our lives. If there aren't fans behind us, there's no reason to play professional football. We can play with our friends."

While Xhaka will not feature at Anfield, with Emery admitting they have to first "recover our best Granit", the manager is also under pressure after the team yet again dropped points from a seemingly comfortable position.

Arsenal have now won just twice in their last eight top-flight games and fans are beginning to question whether the former Paris Saint-Germain coach can end a three-year exile from the Champions League.

It has also been two years since they last won a trophy - the FA Cup in 2017 - and an unnamed club director reportedly told The Sun that things "were better under (former manager Arsene) Wenger".

THE HEAT IS ON

When we are in difficult moments and receiving some criticism, we need to be strong, to know and learn to play under that pressure. It's our work, our job.

UNAI EMERY, Arsenal manager, will gee his side up to play themselves out of a difficult period.

The League Cup is another piece of silverware that the club have not lifted since 1993 and the visit to Merseyside will be an exacting test with unbeaten Liverpool top of the league.

Acknowledging that "individual circumstances like Sunday are coming because as a team we need to improve", Emery added: "We need to be more comfortable and transmit to the supporters, and show a better performance and result."

Unlike Arsenal, the Reds are facing no such issues on or off the field, and though they will field a much-changed side like the visitors, there will be no let-up in their trademark intensity.

Vowing to "attack this competition", assistant manager Pep Lijnders told reporters yesterday: "We are one game away from the last eight. We want quality and identity in our game, and freshness is important.

"They (the players coming in) have a point to prove but we only focus on ourselves. We want to be the best we can be. We have some special (young) talent. It would not be intelligent not to use it."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


LIVERPOOL V ARSENAL

Singtel TV Ch111 & StarHub Ch202, tomorrow, 3.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2019, with the headline ''Our job' to face pressure'. Print Edition | Subscribe