Arsène Wenger has taken the risk of resting Arsenal's principal creative talents, Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb, for tonight's Champions League group match against Slavia Prague, the team his side beat 7-0 two weeks ago. The way he mentioned it yesterday, it did not feel like a very big risk.
Arsenal's manager also felt free to mount a characteristically urbane rebuttal of Sir Alex Ferguson's mischievous comments in the wake of Manchester United's 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium that the English game was in danger of suffering from having too many foreign players, with Arsenal being one of the prime offenders.
Fabregas and Hleb are absent from the squad which is in the Czech capital for the return fixture against a Slavia Prague side currently six points clear at the top of the league, as are central defender Kolo Toure – recovering after being kicked in the calf by Wayne Rooney – and Tomas Rosicky, who has a groin problem but is due to return to action in time for Arsenal's match against Reading on Monday.
"It is always a gamble whatever decisions you make, but I trust the players I take," said Wenger, pointing out that Gilberto would now play in midfield in a game where a point will guarantee Arsenal qualification. "He is captain of the Brazilian national team," he added. "You cannot say he is a big gamble." Among those who will figure for Arsenal include central defender Alex Song, Theo Walcott and Justin Hoyte.
Ferguson's suggestion that a cap limiting clubs to four or five foreign players would cause Arsenal to protest more loudly than anyone was met with a quiet smile by Wenger, for whom tonight will be his 100th Champions League match as a coach.
"It is not very nice to his own foreign players, first of all," he responded. "I would not be very happy if I was a foreign player at Manchester United. For the rest, I am ready to take the blame on all the problems of English football."
Addressing himself more seriously to the question, he added: "I always felt that sport rewards quality and does not hide behind artificial rules. If you put the level of the class down, it does not necessarily make the bad students better. It makes them worse
"You can say, as well, to compete with the best players in the world is a chance to improve your level.
"In Europe we are very rigid and difficult to move forwards because we are all countries and are a bit conservative.
"I can understand the critics, and only give the way I see it. After that, what is behind the comments is not my responsibility. But if you look at the investments of Man United this year, they have invested a lot of money in foreign players.
"If you organise a golf tournament, people go to watch Tiger Woods, whether that is in Scotland or anywhere else.
"When you go to Wimbledon, you want to see [Roger] Federer. That is what people demand today. The world has moved.
"People demand to see the best in the world and you cannot get them to watch a level down any more. The real question is how can England take the opportunity to produce world-class players?"
Walcott will be given the opportunity to develop his own talent either on the right or up front tonight, according to his manager, although he might not find himself alongside Emmanuel Adebayor, who could, in Wenger's phrase, also "get a breather".
Wenger clearly did not feel that Arsenal's 25-match unbeaten run would be put at risk by the absence of his 20-year-old Spanish inspiration, Fabregas, tonight.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Song, Clichy; Eboue, Gilberto, Flamini, Diaby; Adebayor, Walcott.
Slavia Prague (4-4-2): Vaniak; Drizdel, Suchy, Brabec, Hubacek; Selassie, Svec, Tavares, Jablonsky; Ivana, Krajcik.
Referee: B Layec (France).
Champions League Group H
Results: Arsenal 3 Seville 0; Slavia Prague 2 Steaua Bucharest 1; Seville 4 Slavia Prague 2; Steaua Bucharest 0 Arsenal 1; Arsenal 7 Slavia Prague 0; Seville 2 Steaua Bucharest 1.
Remaining fixtures: Today: Slavia Prague v Arsenal; Steaua Bucharest v Seville. 27 Nov: Seville v Arsenal; Steaua Bucharest v Slavia Prague. 12 Dec: Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest; Slavia Prague v Seville.Reuse content