Defiant Arsene Wenger promises ‘strong team’ for Arsenal’s Champions League group finale
Arsene Wenger has vowed to field a strong team against Galatasaray on Tuesday as the under-fire Arsenal manager bids to silence the critics by snatching top spot in Champions League Group D.
Wenger’s side have already qualified for the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition, but they would prefer to finish the group stage in first place to avoid a potentially tricky last 16 clash.
Even more importantly, Wenger desperately needs some good news after a chastening trip to Stoke City on Saturday ended with the Arsenal manager looking a beleaguered figure as he was abused by angry Arsenal fans while waiting to board the club’s train home after their dismal 3-2 defeat.
An online video shows the Frenchman being subjected to foul-mouthed taunts from fans who were clearly unhappy with their team’s latest capitulation in a frustrating domestic campaign which sees them languishing 13 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.
A section of Arsenal’s fans unveiled a banner asking Wenger to quit after the recent 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion and on Saturday he was told to “leave” by some fans as he tried to get on the train back to London.
In the circumstances, Wenger would clearly love to snatch top spot from Borussia Dortmund, who sit two points ahead of Arsenal and host Anderlecht in their final group match on Tuesday, and so he plans to field most of his key players against already eliminated Galatasaray in Istanbul.
“We’ll go with a strong team of course, we want to win the game,” Wenger said.
“Since the start of this season we have played seven games in the Champions League, including the qualifiers, and we have won four. I would like to win five.
“Galatasaray cannot even get Europa League. It’s a massive surprise because I thought they would be one of the contenders to go through.
“Turkish people are very proud and they will try to finish well this campaign with a convincing performance, but we play many games and some players are close to getting an injury, so I’ll have to assess that.”
With their Premier League title challenge already in tatters, Arsenal are fighting to salvage a season which seemed to promise great things after their FA Cup final victory last term ended a nine-year trophy drought.
A long run in the Champions League after a series of last 16 exits would ease the growing pressure on Wenger, who has already had to deal with criticism from Alisher Usmanov, the club’s second largest shareholder in recent weeks.
Should Dortmund lose to Anderlecht and Arsenal beat the Turks, who are already consigned to finishing bottom of the group, then the North Londoners will take first place.
But finishing second will do little to help their prospect of advancing to the quarter-finals and beyond and Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker concedes the club will have only themselves to blame if that is the case.
“There are small regrets in two matches in the group stage where we didn’t play well,” he said.
“But it’s good to have reached the last 16 with a game to spare, especially when it is an away game and it is in Istanbul. You don’t want to be under pressure needing points in Istanbul.”
And, with criticism of Arsenal’s numerous weaknesses growing louder by the week, Mertesacker has called for his teammates to deliver a dynamic performance at the Turk Telekom Arena.
“It is going to be a tough one, but we have to prepare ourselves properly and prepare mentally for the fight. That’s what we’re going to face,” he said.
“The first 10 or 15 minutes are very important and then when you do well they get nervous, so we have to give absolutely everything and not give any chances away.”
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Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM