Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Wenger expects to see real Arsenal star on European stage

Arsene Wenger is looking forward to another Champions League outing in Marseille after admitting his side play with more freedom in Europe.

Wenger's side have endured a troubled start to their Barclays Premier League campaign, with four defeats already after eight matches — including a shock 8-2 reverse at the hands of Manchester United and defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby at the start of the month.

They have fared better in the Champions League, though, winning both legs of a tough play-off against Udinese, beating Olympiacos and drawing at Borussia Dortmund. Group F leaders OM are next up at the Stade Velodrome tonight but, after edging another nervy league encounter with Sunderland 2-1 on Sunday, Wenger is relaxed about returning to continental competition.

“We play with a bit more freedom away from home in Europe and there is a bit less pressure,” he said.

“But in Udinese we also played with massive pressure because that was the game of the season for us. Not to win that game would have been a disaster.

“You can see since then that it was a good game (to win) because Udinese are top of the League in Italy and at the time I could feel they were a very good side.”

Despite feeling more at ease in Europe, Wenger brushed aside suggestions that he would transfer his focus from domestic matters this season.

Instead he believes it is impossible to separate the two, as consistent league form is the simplest route to Europe.

“We will not give up on the league because it represents our future and the qualification for the Champions League (next season),” he said.

“A season without the Champions League would be a catastrophe for us. Of course I'm worried because a club like Arsenal strives to play at the highest standard possible and now we have stronger competition than before with Manchester City. That makes it even more difficult to finish in the top four.

“But I would like to remind you that this is the 14th time in a row that we have qualified for the Champions League and the only other clubs who have done that are Real Madrid and Manchester United. That shows how important it is for us.”

Wenger has only recently welcomed defenders Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou back from injury but continues to suffer fitness problems.

Kieran Gibbs (stomach) has joined an injury list which includes long-term absentees Thomas Vermaelen, About Diaby, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere, but there was better news from Aaron Ramsey, who is available after missing the Sunderland clash with a hamstring strain.

But there was better news regarding Vermaelen (pictured) who has signed a new contract keeping him at the club until 2015.

Wenger will be relieved to get one key player tied down, but the task now is to persuade Van Persie, Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin to follow suit.

Wenger said: “We are absolutely delighted. It is done because I was keen to get it done. That closes speculation about our centre-back positions. We have four or five now, that should be enough.”

That would appear to close the door on any move for Gary Cahill in the summer, leaving the way clear for Tottenham to sign the Bolton Wanderers centre-half.

Vermaelen, who has barely played for more than a year through injury, said: “I always had the intention to stay here. Arsenal is a fantastic club, we're doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future.”

The Belgian, who is probably the first player to announce he has been encouraged to sign a new contract because of a club's financial results, did not accompany the Gunners when they flew to the south of France yesterday to face a team that is also experiencing a frustrating season.

Marseilles are progressing in Europe but languishing domestically. Coach Didier Deschamps is under pressure, with the summer signings failing to impress.

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