Wenger defiant after vital win

We are in a very strong position, says Arsenal manager as victory over Udinese secures Champions League spot

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger last night launched a defiant defence of his Arsenal team by claiming that they had been unfairly labelled a catastrophe after a crucial 2-1 win over Udinese ensured their place in the Champions League group stages draw today.

Wenger’s team came from behind to beat Udinese 2-1 in Italy, and win 3-1 on aggregate, with goals from Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott – as well as a crucial penalty save by Wojciech Szczesny. The Arsenal manager said after the match that his team had been unfairly characterised as being in crisis after a tumultuous summer in which they have sold Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

Wenger, whose team qualified for the club’s 15th consecutive Champions League, said: “I would like to say the club is in overall a very strong position because for 15 years on the trot we have played in the Champions League. We have a new stadium, and a fantastic training ground, a very strong financial situation and a very strong team. Sometimes you have to take a distance from the catastrophe people have predicted.”

Earlier in the day, Nasri had criticised the “passion” of Arsenal fans in his first interview since signing for Manchester City. There had also been confusion before kick-off as to whether Arsenal may qualify for the Champions League in place of Fenerbahce, withdrawn by the Turkish football federation, regardless of the result but Uefa announced during last night’s game that Trabzonspor will take Fenerbahce’s place.

Wenger turned on his critics last night and said he was still the best man to lead the club. He said; “We live in a society where everyone has an opinion on everything. I'm like someone who flies a plane for 30 years and I have to accept someone can come into the cockpit and think they can fly it better than I do. But that's our job and we have to accept it.”

Replacing Emmanuel Frimpong at half-time with the more creative Tomas Rosicky helped tip the game back in Arsenal’s favour. Wenger said that it was important he was allowed in the dressing room at half-time – Uefa have suspended his two-match touchline ban pending an appeal from the club.

“It was important to be in dressing room because I still have some experience,” Wenger said, fully intending the irony. “We wanted to keep calm and not do anything stupid. I don't know if it helped but I was happy to be there.

"Overall it was a fantastic second half and we had chance after chance. I am very happy we kept calm and composed when we were down 1-0. We kept dominating and trying to pay football. We wanted to play. In the end it was a comfortable win in a very important game.

“Gervinho was always dangerous I said many times he will be a big player for us. Sometimes the quality of the player is linked with the transfer amount and it is not always the case. Szcszesny’s save was the turning point at 1-1 it kept us qualified and you could see that mentally it had an impact on their belief and they were not the same team after they missed the penalty.

“I feel of course it [the result] will [alleviate the pressure]. We have been a little bit under pressure for Arsenal to play in the Champions League. With the players that left the pressure would have increased [had they gone out]. Since the beginning of the season I felt a strong determined, attitude in the team. We didn't lose at Newcastle but were down to ten men. We lost to Liverpool with ten but we shouldn't have done and I've watched it again and think we should have won it [if they had kept 11 on the pitch].”

Earlier Nasri had been critical of Arsenal supporters in an interview iwth City’s in-house media. He said: "City fans are really passionate — it reminds me of Marseille. Arsenal have good fans but not that passionate since they moved from Highbury to the Emirates. I remember when we lost 3-0 to City the crowd was amazing. That's what I want when I play football — a good atmosphere. The fans are passionate. Even the weather was nice when I came here [to Manchester]. It reminds me of Marseille.”

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