Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged English Premier League teams to prove last season’s early European exits were “an accident”.
Wenger’s team start their Champions League campaign against SC Braga at the Emirates Stadium here on Wednesday.
Arsenal are looking to go further than their last campaign when they were knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter-finals – the same stage as English rivals Chelsea and Manchester United.
Wenger believes his side must overcome mental hurdles if they are to win the trophy but he feels the English clubs are still among the strongest in Europe’s elite teams.
“We have to show that last year was an accident,” the 60-year-old Frenchman told reporters on Tuesday. “Unfortunately we went out against Barcelona who were better than us over two legs.
“We have to come back and show we can compete with them. Overall I think it was an accident but we will see. I think it (the Premier League) is the strongest league in Europe.”
After reaching the final in 2006, Wenger believes his team need to develop a ruthless mentality to return. There is an added incentive this season as the final is at Wembley, close to Arsenal’s north London base at the Emirates.
“It is only six miles, but unfortunately it is a long way,” Wenger said.
“The mental side is the issue for everybody. The problem as well is that the level of competition is high and in the second part of the championship it becomes a real cup game, when it is a knockout it becomes a different competition.
“You have to have your best players available, the decisions to go for you and all that.”
Arsenal have never won the Champions League or its predecessor the European Cup and Wenger said: “We are always there, not far from Wembley. Quarters, semi-final, we’ve been there. The fact is the mental side of believing we can do it.”
Wenger’s first European opponents this season are also known as Minho’s Arsenalistas after the Poruguese club took Arsenal’s colours in 1921.
Arsenal are expected to win easily, and Wenger added: “That is the price we pay for being in the competition for a long time.
“If we are intelligent, which I think we are, we have learned that you have to turn up (mentally) to win any game in the Champions League or you don’t do it. For us, to win our home games is vital if you want to qualify.”
Wenger confirmed he has Abou Diaby out with an ankle problem suffered in last weekend’s league win over Bolton at the weekend while Thomas Vermaelen has been ruled out with an Achilles injury.
They join Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Aaron Ramsey on the sidelines.
“So, it is quite a good team all out,” Wenger added.
This week promises to test Wenger’s squad as he insists he is not prioritising performing well in Europe over success in the Champions League.
“You cannot because we go three days later to Sunderland and that is a vital game for us,” he explained.
“That is as big a game as tomorrow (Wednesday) because we have no priority, we want to win something no matter what it is, championship or Champions League,” Wenger stressed.
“For example on Saturday I selected a team just to beat Bolton, and I rotated some players who played in the national teams, but not specially looking at the Braga game.”
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!