Belfast Telegraph

Wenger tackling Arsenal's injury crisis before Champions League quest

Arsene Wenger spoken of his club's proximity to the Champions League final at Wembley as “only six miles, but unfortunately it is a long way”.

The journey will be made increasingly difficult if Arsenal maintain their rate of picking up injuries.

Abou Diaby is the latest concern after being ruled out of tonight's Group H opener against SC Braga, with Bolton defender Paul Robinson angering Wenger after damaging the France midfielder's ankle at the weekend.

The FA are not taking retrospective action against Robinson, with the consequences of the tackle being Diaby sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“The tackle was very bad,” the Arsenal manager said. “I do not know for how long (he will be out). What can I say? You ask me about the tackle and I say it's very bad and I can't protect the players — only the FA can do that.

“If I pay £50 and I go to a football game what do I want to see?

“Do I want to see Cesc Fabregas, who plays football, or do I want to watch the guy who kicks you from behind?”

Braga are not expected to adopt a physical approach as Arsenal start their Champions League campaign.

Wembley, the venue for this season's showpiece in Europe's top competition, is actually around 11 miles from the Emirates Stadium, a little further than Wenger suggested.

It appears a “long way” to Wenger, especially as the Frenchman feels his team need to develop the mentality of winners to match their technique on the ball.

“The mental side is the issue of everybody,” he said.

“The problem as well is that the level of competition is high and in the second part of the tournament it becomes a real cup game, when it is knockout it becomes a different competition.

“You have to have your best players available, the decisions to go for you and all that.

“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.”

Their opening opponents are a team nicknamed Minho's Arsenalistas after taking the red and white of Arsenal when they changed their team shirts in 1921.

The Portuguese side have knocked out Sevilla already thanks to a hat-trick from Lima, one of 13 Brazilians listed in their squad.

“They have a strong Brazilian influence in their team,” Wenger said yesterday. “They are physically strong and are well organised, that it is a team which plays with a very quick transition from defence to attack.

“What impresses me is that we played Porto last year, and they finished in front of Porto. Also in the qualifying round they beat Sevilla home and away, and that helps us to be on our toes.”

Shakhtar Donetsk and FK Partizan are Arsenal's other opponents before thoughts will turn to the knockout round.

Wenger feels last season's early exits for English clubs in the competition was “an accident” and the Premier League is still the strongest in Europe.

“We have to show that last year was an accident,” the 60-year-old said. “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 is the strongest league in Europe.”

Diaby joins key players such as Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Aaron Ramsey on the sidelines. “So it is quite a good team all out,” Wenger said.

It is a test of the depth Wenger has in his squad as he is not prioritising the Premier League over performing well in Europe this season.

“You cannot because we go three days later to Sunderland and that is a vital game for us,” he said. “That is as big a game as (this one) because we have no priority, we want to win something no matter what it is, championship or Champions League.

“For example, on Saturday I selected a team just to beat Bolton, and I rotated some players who played for their national teams, but not specially looking at the Braga game.”

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