Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to miss trip to Montpellier

Arsene Wenger says Vito Mannone is 'very close' to claiming the number one jersey

Arsene Wenger has every confidence Vito Mannone holds the “mental strength” to put his Champions League nightmare behind him when he returns to top-flight European action in Montpellier tomorrow

Wojciech Szczesny suffered an ankle injury in the 6-1 Barclays Premier League win over Southampton at the weekend, which was his first game back since a rib problem.

The Italian had kept two clean sheets, at Stoke and Liverpool, deputising for the Poland international earlier this season - in marked contrast to his last European performance for the Gunners, when he produced a calamitous display in the defeat at Olympiacos last December.

A productive four-month loan spell at npower Championship side Hull built up the confidence of the 24-year-old once again, though, and Wenger has no issue with throwing Mannone straight into the action at Stade La Mosson.

"Vito is very close (to the Arsenal number one jersey), and he gets another opportunity now," said Wenger as the squad prepared to leave Luton Airport this afternoon, with midfielder Abou Diaby fit again following a hip problem.

"He has belief and he has the mental strength to deal with that."

With Lukasz Fabianski also sidelined because of injury, and Argentina youth international Damian Martinez not on Arsenal's Champions League squad list, 21-year-old Academy product James Shea will take an unexpected place on the bench tomorrow.

"He was on the list as goalkeeper number five at the beginning of the season and now he is number two. That shows you how quickly football can change," said Wenger.

Szczesny's error saw Arsenal concede a first Premier League goal of the season against Southampton on Saturday.

While not putting that down to any fitness issue, Wenger accepts it would have perhaps been better to rest the Pole again after he suffered the new problem during the warm-up.

"He says not, but of course we had a question in our minds before the game: do we change him or not? We decided to leave him on - maybe it was a mistake," Wenger said.

Arsenal may be Champions League veterans, now playing in the elite European competition for the 15th straight campaign, and Montpellier only just starting out having won the Ligue 1 title in May, but Wenger warned against any complacency tomorrow night when taking on a side who have lost three from the first five domestic games.

"What they did [last season] is a miracle because I think three years ago they were in the second division and one point away from relegation to division three," he said.

"It is difficult to know why they have not started well this season. Maybe because they were champions and now they are the team to beat.

"People have maybe a little less urgency and everybody is a bit more cautious against them."

Olivier Giroud netted 21 goals for Montpellier to be the joint-top scorer in Ligue 1, which prompted Arsenal to make a £12million move for him in the summer.

The France international has yet to score for his new club and Wenger is aware of the added pressure tomorrow's fixture will bring.

"It can be positive, but it can be negative and it is never easy to handle," he said.

"No matter what you do, the less time you give the player to think about it, the better it is."

Wenger will watch from the stands tomorrow night as he serves the first of a three-match Uefa touchline ban, imposed after he confronted referee Damir Skomina in the wake of last season's Champions League defeat by AC Milan - his third sanction in the space of a year.

Former Arsenal centre-half Steve Bould is set to take charge of the team, having become assistant manager this season following Pat Rice's retirement.

Wenger said: "Steve is doing his job very well.

"Don't forget that the basis of our team is a very offensive philosophy so sometimes, if we concede goals in the future, it will not be Steve Bould's fault.

"It will only be a consequence of the way we see football."

Wenger added: "Steve is a very similar coach to how he played - clear in his mind, well focused and intelligent."

PA

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