Sunday 20 May 2018

'I wouldn't swap with City' – Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger keeps an eye on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky during training yesterday
ahead of tonight's game with Olympiakos
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger keeps an eye on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky during training yesterday ahead of tonight's game with Olympiakos

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger has claimed Arsenal were in "fantastic shape" and said that he would not want to trade places with Manchester City.

Arsenal are languishing in 10th place in the Premier League after making their worst start for 18 years but, unlike City, are still in all four competitions. Saturday's 2-0 defeat against Swansea provoked loud booing from the Arsenal supporters and widespread criticism, particularly after Wenger highlighted fatigue as an explanation for such a poor display.

Wenger, though, described the reaction against Arsenal over the past 48 hours as "unbelievable" and complained of "superficial analysis". He also urged players and supporters to remember the bigger picture. "I can take a distance if it goes well, or less well," said Wenger. "I don't believe I'm the king of the world when it goes very well or the worst manager in the world when it does not got so well.

"We live in a world that needs a drama every day. The world has become more emotional about every single thing but that is not the real world. This club is in fantastic shape. We have a good team, we have a strong structure that we have built over the years, we are in a strong financial situation and we are mentally strong. That is a fact."

Arsenal have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup but are already 12 points behind Manchester City in the league. Asked directly if he would swap places with City, who are out of both the Champions League and League Cup, Wenger said: "No. For one simple reason. We have played 15 games in the league, we have 23 games to come back. We can make it up. Once you are out in a cup competition, you are out. You can't make it up."

For all his relentless public focus on the positives, Wenger has never been under greater scrutiny during his 16 years at Arsenal. After the loss against Swansea, there were also heated dressing-room exchanges, but Wenger suggested that he was pleased to see some emotion from his players.

"Nothing really happened," he said. "Do you want them to dance after a game we lost? On one side you can't say you want them to care and be passionate. I would be more worried if I see them laughing in the shower after we lost. We were naive against Swansea, we wanted so much to win that we forgot first not to lose."

Wenger also believes that he has been misunderstood over his reference to the physical tiredness of players, with many pundits pointing out that other teams were coping with a similar schedule.

"People don't understand tiredness very well in England," he said. "They think you can only be tired at the end of season. It's a lack of freshness. It is not an excuse. That we were not fresh is only a part of the explanation.

"At the moment it is fashionable to be against Arsenal, so every single word you say people turn it against you. It's superficial analysis of things to turn it against you when it suits you. It doesn't stop me saying what I truly believe. I have one pressure: to win football matches and to play the football I love."

Wenger's concerns about the freshness in his squad, allied to Arsenal's guaranteed progress in the Champions League, will lead to sweeping changes against Olympiakos in Athens tonight.

Victory combined with Montpellier gaining at least a point in Schalke would secure first place but, with only Barcelona, Malaga and Manchester United – whom Arsenal cannot draw due to Uefa's country protection rules which apply until the quarter-finals – guaranteed to finish first, the strength of their possible opponents is impossible to determine. Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain, Juventus and Valencia are all currently second in their respective groups.

Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Jack Wilshere have all remained in London. Jernade Meade is likely to make his debut at left-back while Chuba Akpom, Martin Angha, Zaj Ansah, Sead Hajrovic, Elton Montiero and James Shea have also travelled despite having never played in either the Premier League or Champions League.

With the January transfer window approaching, Andrei Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci and Marouane Chamakh will also have what might amount to a final chance to salvage their Arsenal careers.

Olympiakos v Arsenal,

Live, TV3/ITV 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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