Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 24 May 2016

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Wenger challenges stars to extend proud Euro record

By Robert Jones

Published 19/08/2014

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will let others be the judge of what it means should his side qualify again for the lucrative group stages of the Champions League – but knows all too well the cost of failing to beat Besiktas.

The Gunners flew into Istanbul yesterday evening with their confidence boosted following a dramatic late 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on the first day of the new Barclays Premier League season, which came a week after defending champions Manchester City had been defeated 3-0 in the Community Shield.

Wenger is ready to put his proud record of 16 consecutive seasons playing in Europe's elite competition up against any other success, with qualification set to bring with it some £7million in prize money, with each subsequent group home match worth around £3m of additional match-day revenue.

"It's difficult because in England the competition is always hard. There are six or seven clubs who can get into the top four," said Wenger, whose nine-season trophy drought was finally ended with FA Cup glory at Wembley in May.

"We finished fourth with 79 points last year, but in the past have won the championship with 78. That shows you that the number of teams who can achieve big, big quality in England has increased. There are six or seven teams who can fight for the championship this year."

Wenger added: "You let people judge what you do. All I can do is do my best every day and accept the verdict. I'm in a public job, so I accept it."

Arsenal brought in Chile forward Alexis Sanchez in a £30million deal from Barcelona this summer, following on from the club-record signing of Mesut Ozil.

Wenger maintains qualifying again for the group stages is about more than just being able to sign the world's top players.

"It doesn't affect my transfer policy too much. Financially it's a big game, but that's not the most important thing," he said.

"We want to compete at the top level and want to fight with the best in Europe. That's the point of this competition for us, not the financial consequences.

"We have always in the history at the club adapted to our finances. What's very important is that you want to play against the best.

Wenger knows it will be no easy ride against Slaven Bilic's well-organised outfit, who defeated Feyenoord 5-2 on aggregate in the third-round with former Chelsea striker Demba Ba netting a hat-trick in the second leg.

"It is a big test," he said.

"We had a short preparation, and we know that in one week we have three big games. Besiktas home and away, and Everton in between.

"Every game you win makes you stronger. On that front winning games helps you to gain confidence. The group still needs to grow."

Besiktas' Vodafone Arena ground is being redeveloped, so the tie will take place at the 72,000-seater Ataturk Olympic Stadium, the venue where Liverpool famously beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League.

Arsenal won over the Bosporus last season when they defeated Fenerbache 3-0, but Wenger is not taking anything for granted.

"Every challenge is different and beating a Turkish team away from home is very difficult but we want to perform at our best," he said.

"Besiktas are on the back of a good result against Feyenoord. We're on our toes and want to produce a good result."

Wenger added: "We started strong last year and played our game with good determination, and we will try to do that again.

"It doesn't matter that the game is not in Besiktas' stadium. The people who will come out will support Besiktas."

Wenger will take things one step at a time, careful not to make any bold predictions of what his side could achieve in Europe later this season.

"I have a good experience in the Champions League, I know you have to be pragmatic and realistic and just go game by game," he said. "First we have to qualify and we know we have two difficult games."

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