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Arsenal look to replicate Euro form in EPL

Arsene Wenger is desperate to see his Arsenal side start translating their European form into a sustained Premier League challenge.

Not so long ago, the north Londoners would routinely swat aside all-comers in the domestic league while labouring horribly once they confronted the cream of European opposition.

Now, however, that scenario has been turned on its head, with Arsenal finding sweet relief from their Premier League travails in the Champions League.

Wenger’s preference for continental opposition cannot simply be measured in results, although they are undoubtedly impressive.

His team has not lost at home in 23 European games, no goals have been conceded in five Champions League ties at the Emirates this season and, after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over AS Roma, a place in the quarter-finals is beckoning.

The Frenchman will take heart from those statistics, but his real appreciation for European occasions comes in the freedom they allow his young side.

While the continental elite will generally back themselves to expose Arsenal’s soft centre at the Emirates, Premier League sides invariably think better of it, swamping midfield in an effort to squeeze the space and relying on one, muscle-bound target man to serve as an attacking outlet.

This ultra-pragmatic approach has earned some of the top flight’s lesser lights invaluable points at Arsenal this season, with Sunderland the latest to profit last weekend, when a goalless draw cost the Gunners the opportunity to move closer to fourth-placed Aston Villa, who were beaten by Chelsea.

Wenger is notoriously sniffy about the lack of ambition displayed by some of his side’s opponents, to the point where they were dominating his thoughts even in the wake of the victory over Roma.

“The difference between the game against Roma and the one against Sunderland was that both teams tried to play and go forward,” Wenger said. “I believe that the games are locked in the Premier League because the teams refuse to play.

“When teams don?t come out, the game doesn?t go up and down. We had no space on Saturday and as long as you don?t score the first goal, that is what you get.

“In a game like the one against Roma, both teams take the initiative when they win the ball back. That isn?t the case at the moment in the Premier League.”

Wenger has suggested that Arsenal need to find a way of “punishing” sides who refuse to attack them on home soil, and they should have another opportunity to fine-tune that art when Fulham make the short journey to the Emirates on Saturday.

The Cottagers side boast the second-worst away record in the Premier League, having failed to win on the road in the league all season, and manager Roy Hodgson is unlikely to tell his players to commit to all-out attack.

Nonetheless, Fulham will not be anything less than doughty.

Hodgson’s team has already held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield and, while they capitulated miserably at Manchester United in their most recent trip to one of the established ‘Big Four’, that was an unusually limp performance.

“Going to United and not performing well left a bad taste and we knew we needed to get back to the basics,” Clint Dempsey, the striker, said. “We need to be a team that can do it away from home and we?ll continue to work hard to correct that.

“It?ll definitely be a tough game but we?ll give them a good match and the last time we played them at home we won. We have to go there being positive and try and get forward and score goals. We?re trying to do everything we can to stay in the top 10 and push on from there.”

Sat 28 February, 2009
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