Wenger: European game will soon be engulfed by the financial crisis

Arsenal manager says economic collapse will change playing field but lowers club's expectations before Dortmund match

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Arsene Wenger believes a financial cataclysm will soon engulf Europe, in months, if not weeks, finally affecting a sport which has so far appeared immune to the economic depression provoked by the banking crisis. Such is Wenger's focus on football he sounded disappointed that the day of fiscal reckoning had not already arrived to create a level playing field in this season's Champions League, but he felt it would soon do so.

"I am convinced that Europe will go into a huge financial crisis within the next three weeks, or three months, and maybe that will put everything into perspective again," he said yesterday. "Football is not untouchable. We live by people going to the stadiums and from [sponsors] advertising to people who buy products. All our income could be a little bit under threat in the next few months."

Wenger, who earned an economics degree at the University of Strasbourg, was speaking on the eve of Arsenal's first Champions League group tie in Dortmund tonight. He added that at present there was a top tier of clubs whose financial resources gave them a huge advantage.

"I believe this season that I see two teams that are above the rest – Real Madrid and Barcelona – and the rest have to catch up during the season. Barça and Real Madrid have much more financial power than they had 14 years ago [when Wenger first took Arsenal into the Champions League] because they have individualised their TV rights. So they, at the moment, with teams like Man City and Chelsea [both financed by billionaires] can take who they want." Wenger added: "We have seen the first signs of some resistance in Spain where everybody complains."

He was referring to the recent players' strike in Spain which was settled after a new television deal was agreed. While it was a collective agreement, which is how the Premier League has always operated, Real and Barcelona are still guaranteed 35 per cent of TV income between them. In England the differential between the highest-earning club and the lowest was 2:1.

The financial disparity between Arsenal and a quartet of super-rich clubs was not the reason Wenger was reluctant to talk up Arsenal's chances of finally winning a competition they have qualified for every season since 1997, but only once reached the final of, in 2006.

"I still feel our best XI is a match for anyone and I wouldn't rule out [winning the competition] yet, but it's too early to speak about that," he said. "Saying that would raise a lot of scepticism at the moment and I don't think anyone would believe it. But we have to do as well as we can and we have to form a team in the next two months. It's too early to have that kind ofambition.

"Let's get [Jack] Wilshere back because he has played a big part in the quality of our game and his qualities are very difficult to find. Let's get [Abou] Diaby back and everyone available and hopefully we can get some positive results together. I believe that we can be competitive, but the next two months will tell. I can understand why people are sceptical. We have not had a particularly strong start in the championship."

Indeed. Saturday's somewhat fortuitous home win over Swansea was their first league win of the season and the team is not only without four midfielders tonight but is still integrating the rush of deadline daysignings.

An ankle injury picked up on Saturday meant Aaron Ramsey was left behind with Diaby, Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky when the team flew out of Luton. With Emmanuel Frimpong's inexperience still evident, Yossi Benayoun may make a first start for Arsenal at the head of a midfield that will also feature Mikel Arteta making his Champions League debut.

Cool heads will certainly be needed in the Westfalenstadion, Europe's sixth largest ground and one of the continent's great venues. Nor will Wenger be able to help once his team enters the stadium as he is serving the first match of a two-match ban imposed for, in Uefa's eyes, flouting a previous ban.

Wenger's introduction of Rosicky, and change of shape, turned the qualifier at Udinese in Arsenal's favour. Tonight the decisions will be down to his assistant Pat Rice.

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