Wed, Aug 21, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Wenger under pressure ahead of Arsenal’s Euro crunch

AFP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Arsene Wenger admitted that vulnerable Arsenal must show some fight to avoid more misery in today’s Champions League playoff first leg against Fenerbahce in Istanbul.

Wenger’s team suffered a dismal start to their Premier League campaign as Aston Villa romped to a surprise 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Arsenal’s lackluster display drew a furious response from Gunners fans, who left Wenger in no doubt that they blame him for failing to fulfill the club’s pre-season promise to spend big on new signings.

The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust joined the chorus of disapproval on Monday when they called on the club to halt any contract talks with Wenger and focus instead on rebuilding the squad.

After eight years without a trophy, Wenger and his players are already under intense pressure and failing to qualify for the lucrative Champions League group stages would be a disaster in the current climate of dissatisfaction.

To make matters worse for Wenger, he was hit with a series of injuries against Villa which have left him with just eight fully fit senior players.

England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sustained a serious knee problem that could rule him out for several months, while Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey joined a growing injury list that already includes Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen.

Under the circumstances, Wenger could have done with an easier task than trying to emerge unscathed from Fenerbahce’s deafening Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.

Wenger let his guard down as he conceded his team are currently more fragile than he would like.

“We missed chances, were unlucky and had injuries, roll the three together and it is a fragile position, but the difference between us and the rest is not massive,” he said. “I believe our season will depend on how we respond to this defeat.”

“After such a disappointing start it will be difficult, but we will bounce back because the spirit and the focus in the team is good,” he added. “It is a vital game for us because we have fought very hard to be in this position. It is a tricky fixture, but we want to finish the job now.”

With only one signing since the end of last season and a series of failed bids for the likes of Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Gustavo, Wenger sorely needs a new face or two to lift spirits at the Emirates.

However, there was no sign of his luck improving before Arsenal headed to Turkey as Newcastle United rejected his reported £12 million (US$18.8 million) bid for France midfielder Yohan Cabaye.

An Arsenal offer of a combined £35 million bid for Swansea City duo Michu and Ashley Williams is said to be in the pipeline, while moves for Schalke 04 right-back Atsuto Uchida and Atletico Madrid defender Juanfran have also been suggested.

For now, Wenger is concentrating on restoring his players’ morale in time to secure a positive result against a Fenerbahce whose future in the competition is uncertain.

Fenerbahce finished second last season, but were handed a two-year ban for match-fixing by UEFA in June which related to the end of the 2010-2011 Turkish league.

However, they were reinstated in the competition after an emergency ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is pending a full hearing after the playoff.

“You can go up the Eiffel Tower and throw the money away, but you play with the players you have,” Wenger said of the task facing his team. “What is important is to rebuild the confidence of the team before Wednesday night.”

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