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Saturday 1 October 2016

My motivation is stronger than ever, insists defiant Wenger

Jeremy Wilson

Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger speaking to the media in Barcelona yesterday (Reuters)
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger speaking to the media in Barcelona yesterday (Reuters)

Arsene Wenger last night launched the most defiant defence yet of his Arsenal career and told his critics that he had never felt more motivated, dedicated - or pressurised - to deliver success.

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"I built the club, and the way I did it was with hard work," said Wenger. "I had no external resources. Compare the club when I arrived and how it is today. It is moved forward, and without any help from anybody."

Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique had earlier described Wenger's 20-year tenure at Arsenal as "impossible" in the modern era of football and said that European clubs were instead moving towards contracts of only six months.

Wenger will certainly reassess his future this summer ahead of what is the final season of his contract - and is sensitive to the unrest among fans - but hardly sounds like he is contemplating retirement.

Asked how he felt about the job compared to 20 years ago, Wenger said: "I have no doubt about my huge motivation. I am more motivated than the day I arrived, and I feel even more the pressure and the responsibility to keep this club moving forward. I don't question my dedication. It is 100 pc and I give more time to my club than when I arrived."

The inescapable backdrop, however, to this unlikely attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Barcelona is that Wenger is facing more scepticism than at any time since he arrived at Arsenal in 1996. That manifested itself into open dissent after the recent home defeats by Swansea City and Watford, with the club now out of the FA Cup and respectively 11 and six points adrift of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

Shock

Barcelona are 37 games unbeaten and, although Wenger estimated Arsenal's chances of a shock tonight at only "five per cent", he does expect further twists in the league title race. "We fight to win trophies and at the moment we are not favourites to deliver that but the Premier League is more open than people think and in the Champions League we have a very small chance," he said.

Wenger then refused to get into a question about the dissatisfaction of fans because of concern that his answer could be misinterpreted. "We have gone through a disappointing spell and it is important to stay calm and strong," he said.

"I'm not too much of an image person - I just want to give my best for this club. What people think is different, and I've never been a fan of that. Honest dedication and total commitment is the most important. One day I will say, 'I did my best', and the people around me will witness that. I am convinced the players have decided to give a strong response. We have to deliver something special."

Arsenal's recent form provides limited evidence for such optimism - they have won four of their last 14 matches - but, just as in Bayern Munich three years ago, Wenger believes that a strong performance tonight could act as a springboard for the final nine league games. "We have won everywhere in Europe but not here," he said. "It would be a big boost for us to have a great game."

The 2-0 deficit places a necessity on attack and Danny Welbeck is expected to start for the first time this season in the Champions League while Laurent Koscielny's pace could mean that he replaces Per Mertesacker rather than Gabriel at centre-back.

Barcelona's front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored 103 goals already this season, almost double the combined tally of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Welbeck and Joel Campbell.

"The advantage in our position is that the task is clear: we have to attack," said Wenger. "But the magicians of Barcelona will demand a good defensive performance from our side."

Enrique sees no need to alter Barcelona's tactics against an Arsenal team who are likely to leave plenty of space on the counter-attack. "No change in our approach," he said. "Maybe that is a question for Mr Wenger, whether he will change."

Barcelona will be without centre-back Gerard Pique, meaning that Thomas Vermaelen is likely to start against his old club. (© Daily Telegraph, London, London)

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