Forget Old Trafford, Wenger tells squad

Arsenal focus on 'massive' Champions League qualifier with Celtic tonight as crucial Premier League match looms
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The Independent Football

The trip to Old Trafford is only three days' away but Arsène Wenger has told his players their game with Celtic tonight is far more important than the league match with Manchester United.

Arsenal hold a 2-0 lead over Celtic from the first leg of their Champions League final qualifying round match last week and despite the comfortable advantage, the Arsenal manager has informed his players they cannot afford to relax and start thinking about the weekend's game.

"We have to give absolutely everything," he said. "It is a more important game than Saturday for the club, by far, because tonight you cannot catch back. Saturday, even if you drop points against Man United, you can always catch back, you have 35 league games still to go.

"If you miss your game against Celtic you have zero, it is a massive game," he added. "It's not job done yet – it's job to do against Celtic, a job to finish. We have done a big part of it and we want to get over the line."

The Champions League group stages are worth approximately £30m if a team wins all their games, although Wenger stressed yesterday that the financial aspects were not what made this game so important. He said: "It's not the financial blow that matters, it's that we want to be in the Champions League, and this is a much bigger game than Saturday."

"Our priority is to get into the groups then we try and win it. We live in a pragmatic world so first we must get in to the groups."

Wenger, who will be without the injured Cesc Fabregas from his starting line-up after the French midfielder injured his hamstring on Saturday against Portsmouth, insisted he will not rest players ahead of the United fixture. Fabregas is only "40 per cent" to play against United. "I will play the team that is most efficient to win the game against Celtic," Wenger said. "I will consider the fatigue issue as if we lose players we could lose them for three or four weeks."

Combined with playing as strong a team as he can, Wenger has stressed to his players the importance of getting a convincing result at home against Tony Mowbray's side. He said: "For the sake of our season we have to be strong at the Emirates. Any time you are weak at home it has consequences for the game and for the season."

Wenger wants his players to reinforce the message sent out by their 4-1 home win on Saturday. Last season they slipped up at the Emirates in the league with defeats against Hull and Aston Villa and draws against Fulham and Sunderland.

"I've told the players not to drop, we know and the players know we are not in danger of easing off. That makes this season interesting as well, with Man United's and Liverpool's early defeats. Celtic were physically hard in the first game. They didn't drop. We need 90 top-class physical minutes."

Wenger complained yesterday that his side had not received sufficient credit for reaching the Champions League semi-finals last season."It's not a surprise anymore when an English team reaches the semis, you always expect one or two, but we beat some good teams along the way like Villarreal." He can expect a lot worse than a collective shrug of the shoulders should his side slip up against Celtic tonight.

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