Wenger wary of another cup knockout
Manager urges Arsenal to adapt after coasting through Champions League group
Thursday 26 November 2009
Now for the hard part. That, with due deference to Liverpool's travails, is how Arsenal will feel having eased into the knockout stages of the Champions League on Tuesday. Unlike the Merseysiders, Arsenal have usually made short work of the competition's opening group stage. Their problems come thereafter.
This is the 10th successive season Arsenal have made it out of the group stages, but only five times have they progressed to the quarter-finals, twice moving on to the semi-finals, and once, when they lost to Barcelona in 2006, reached the final. It is a poor return compared with Chelsea's five semi-finals in six seasons, while Liverpool and Manchester United have both reached two finals, winning one, in the last five years.
During this decade-long quest Arsenal have achieved some impressive results, knocking out Real Madrid, Juventus and Milan, but they have also been put out by Deportivo la Coruña and PSV Eindhoven; plus, of course, Chelsea, Liverpool and United.
"I'm pleased to qualify because this competition is not easy and over the 10 years we have been consistent," said Arsène Wenger. He added: "I believe we can go further this season but there are two competitions in the Champions League: one is a championship, one is a cup. We now move into that cup stage and that's very different psychologically. Every minute becomes important. We have to adapt to that."
Nigel Winterburn, a member of the team that won the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1993, and a player in their early Champions League campaigns, said he believed it was just a matter of time before Arsenal broke through.
"When I played we were inconsistent in the Champions League," he said. "Once you start making the knockout stages it is about performances over two legs and getting a bit of luck. You are aiming to make the quarter-finals every year, then eventually you will get to a final and win.
"If you don't perform in one leg of a tie then you usually go out. Unlike in the groups, where you get second chances, you can't make mistakes. Arsenal have made them in the past, but they are going the right way. The Champions League suits them, but it depends on form and injury. Arsenal have made a final, and were unlucky not to win. People say they do not have enough experience; it's an easy statement to make but I'm not convinced it's true. Younger players have no fear."
Wenger said he hoped, when the knockout stages began in February, that Arsenal would be "in a strong position in the league as that will give us confidence." To an outsider their European prospects might seem better if they were focusing on that but Winterburn explained why his former manager thought otherwise. "It's rubbish to think players can focus on this or that. You can't just switch it on and off. It doesn't happen like that.
"That is especially so with Arsenal because of the way they play. Their game is more complicated than a lot of teams. There is a lot of movement on the ball and around it and they need a high level of performance. When confidence is low players delay even simple things so if two or three players are off form it all breaks down."
Traoré keen to repay Wenger's loyalty as he steps in for Gibbs
With Kieran Gibbs expected to be out until February following yesterday's operation on the metatarsal he broke against Standard Liège on Tuesday, Armand Traoré is in line to deputise against Chelsea on Sunday, and beyond.
The 20-year-old impressed in the Carling Cup final in 2007 but his form dipped and he had been overtaken by Gibbs as the understudy to Gaël Clichy, who is also injured. Now comes his chance to impress and, he hopes, justify Arsène Wenger's continued faith in a player he signed from Monaco. "The boss has always shown confidence in me; even when I've been injured and not played for a while he's retained that and it's very important to me."
Traoré, who played 28 games on loan at Portsmouth last season, often in midfield, suggested before Gibbs' injury that he would talk to Wenger at the end of the season if he did not get a run of games. Now he has the chance to do his talking on the pitch.
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