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Arsenal v Basel: Wenger calls on Gunners to clinch top prize of dodging elite

By Mark Mann-Bryans

Published 28/09/2016

Arsene Wenger and midfielder Granit Xhaka
Arsene Wenger and midfielder Granit Xhaka

Arsene Wenger is aiming to take another step towards guiding Arsenal to the top of their Champions League group when they welcome Basel to the Emirates Stadium tonight.

The Gunners have made it through the group stage for the past 16 years but have failed to get beyond the round of 16 in the previous six attempts.

One of the problems has been their inability to finish in top spot in their group, leaving them open to face some of Europe's biggest names.

Barcelona eased past Wenger's side last year but, after fighting to a draw at Paris St Germain in their opening game of Group A, the Frenchman is hoping that can lead to advancing as group winners and avoiding the rest of Europe's elite.

"It's our target but the truth is on the pitch," he said. "We had a good game on Saturday (the 3-0 win against Chelsea) but let's show that we can go from good game to good game and put the effort in, in every single game.

"Last year we made it difficult for ourselves and we have learned as well that in the group stage it's not only important to qualify but, if possible, qualify top of the group.

"It gives you many more chances after to go through."

While PSG will be considered the main rivals to Wenger's ambitions of winning the group, the 66-year-old, who celebrates 20 years in charge at Arsenal on Saturday, acknowledges that tonight's opposition can cause an upset.

"They are a team who are used to playing in the Champions League," he said of Basel. "It's not a newcomer, they have huge experience in the competition.

"This experience goes through the generations and this is why they're not intimidated. On the other hand, they have nothing to lose. That's always dangerous."

Summer signing Granit Xhaka, a former Basel player, could make just his third Arsenal start as he is likely to be drafted in for the injured Francis Coquelin.

The Switzerland international replaced Coquelin after he suffered a knee injury on Saturday, but Wenger revealed the prognosis of the Frenchman's injury was better than they had first expected.

Wenger said: "He is out for the game, but it should be a short-term injury because the scan was quite positive and I think it will be three weeks out.

"It's positive because last year during this period we got some bad news and a few long-term injuries and it was a handicap.

"The fact is we have a compact squad, but of top quality, so to keep everybody together is a big plus."

Meanwhile, Basel coach Urs Fischer will take heart from his club's recent run against English sides.

The Swiss Super League champions have lost just one of their last four games in England having drawn at Manchester United in 2012 before winning at Tottenham and Chelsea.

Their only loss in recent times came against the Blues at Stamford Bridge back in May 2013 but, although Fischer is pleased to boast such a good record, he will not be channelling too much from the past.

"We will see what is going to happen," he said.

"In the end it is important for us not to look at what other people are saying or writing.

"We have to look at ourselves but the past is a positive thing.

"We have to show confidence and play confidence so the results are important but the past is the past and the present is all that matters. We have to play a very good game to get something."

Belfast Telegraph

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