LONDON — Arsene Wenger has urged Arsenal not to forget that they are “good football players” as they look to end their slump at AC Milan in the Europa League on Thursday.
Arsenal go into the round-of-16 tie on a four-match losing streak for the first time since 2002 and face an in-form Milan who are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions.
Wenger is under increasing pressure, and has told his players to forget about their recent struggles and focus on the simple things.
“In life you forget quickly how good you are,” he told a news conference. “When you have a bad week, players change their minds about their own quality. So [it is important] not to forget that we are good football players, but as well to fix reachable targets, be practical and pragmatic.
“Focus on what you can do better, and analyse what you didn’t do well. And do not be scared too much of the consequences of a bad result but focus on pragmatic things like defending better, playing quicker.
“Doing more things together, reachable targets that can improve the team.”
Wenger confirmed that right-back Hector Bellerin will miss the game with an inflamed left knee, having trained on Wednesday but then staying in London after feeling too much pain.
“He tried, he went out, but couldn’t absorb the training session so we had to leave him behind,” Wenger said.
Bellerin had a scan on Tuesday that showed no ligament damage and underwent further tests on Wednesday, with the manager saying that “it doesn’t look a long-term problem.”
With speculation growing that Wenger could be forced out in the summer if he fails to win the Europa League and qualify for next season’s Champions League, he said he had dealt with high-pressure situations before.
Last year he was given a new two-year contract after winning the FA Cup, despite finishing outside the top four for the first time in his 21-year reign.
“Yeah it makes me a little bit think about last year,” Wenger said. “It increases the pressure on it even more, this competition.
“At the moment it’s certainly difficult when you go through a patch like that. But it’s as well a good opportunity, what you want is to show that you have the quality and the strength, and you can only show that when it’s difficult.
“So that’s a good opportunity for us as well to show we can deal with that, and for the longer term it will make the team even stronger.”
Centre-back Laurent Koscielny is one of the few Arsenal players remaining from the 4-0 loss at Milan’s San Siro in the 2012 Champions League, and he said this young Milan side was vastly different to the one that had included players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Clarence Seedorf.
“In this competition it’s always important because we play two games, the first one is always very important to negotiate well. When we came here last time, we didn’t,” Koscielny said.
He added that Arsenal’s recent struggles had been “difficult for the team” but called on the squad to stay united.
“To be together is the most important,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what is going on outside, we need to stay together as a team.
“We are a in a negative spiral and it’s difficult to get out of this, so we need to stay positive in our heads because the brain dictates our legs and our body.
“We have the quality to push ourselves and to have a great result to give us more confidence and then, step by step, to come back stronger.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.