Belfast Telegraph

Judge my team come May, urges Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsene Wenger last night demanded that judgment on his faltering Arsenal team be suspended until the end of the season as the under-pressure manager fought off criticism following Saturday's painful defeat at Stoke City. Arsenal play Galatasaray tonight, needing a win to have any chance of topping their Champions League group, having already qualified.

The game is more important not for that slim possibility, but for a response to Saturday's defeat. Wenger insisted that the team's defence - which will include Mathieu Debuchy after nearly three months out - will be stronger tonight.

This was Wenger's first appearance since he was harangued by Arsenal fans at Stoke-on-Trent train station on Saturday evening, and he was clear in his denial that the abuse bothered him.

"It is not wearing me down, not at all," Wenger said.

"We have to cope with that. We are professional footballers and football people, and I am a competitive person.

"What is important is the next game, and responding in a strong way."

Arsenal's season is far from over - they are sixth in the Premier League and in the Champions League knockout stages - and Wenger implored fans to wait until May before the team are judged.

"We want to be judged at the end of the season, not after every game when emotion is high," he said.

"Let us get our stability back and see at the end of the season where we are."

Even if Arsenal win tonight they will still need Borussia Dortmund to lose at home to Anderlecht if they are to finish top of the group and so Wenger is resting key players.

Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla all stayed at home; Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Yaya Sanogo and Hector Bellerin will start, while Debuchy and Wojciech Szczesny return from injury.

"We have 11 experienced players and six young players on the bench," Wenger said.

"What we want is to come back quickly to a strong defensive performance."

Chuba Akpom, the 19-year-old striker, and 17-year-old midfielder Gedion Zelalem will be among the substitutes and Wenger has also chosen the lesser-known Stefan O'Connor and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made his own Champions League debut as an 18-year-old in 2011, predicted that the youngsters will cope with whatever lies in front of them.

"You have to be challenged at some point," he said.

"They all have good quality, they are all good lads and they can prove to the boss that they are good players."

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