Arsene Wenger targets Arsenal double

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger feels Arsenal's disappointing Champions League exit against Barcelona now means his squad will not be "overloaded" as they aim to beat Manchester United to the domestic double.

The Gunners crashed out of Europe to the Spanish champions for the second successive season at the Nou Camp, where Wenger was left in a rage and on a UEFA charge following the decision of Swiss referee Massimo Busacca to controversially dismiss striker Robin van Persie for shooting at goal just a second after the whistle for offside.

It remains to be seen just how hard Europe's governing body hit Wenger, and also midfielder Samir Nasri, for "inappropriate language" directed towards the official at the final whistle, with the Arsenal manager yesterday adding more fuel to the fire when he accused UEFA of being arrogant and of acting like a "dictatorship".

What is for certain, though, is a season which again promised so much is in danger of once more ultimately delivering very little.

Nevertheless, Arsenal - who suffered a shock defeat to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final at Wembley 10 days ago - still hold destiny in their own hands.

Following successive league defeats for United, Wenger's men are now just three points behind the Red Devils, who play the second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Marseille next week and must go to the Emirates Stadium on May 1.

Victory at Old Trafford in tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final clash would see the Gunners return to Wembley in April and stay on course to clinch what would certainly be a double earned the hard way.

Wenger feels not having a such congested fixture list ahead could just work in their favour.

"We will not be overloaded, that's the advantage of it," said the Gunners boss, again without skipper Cesc Fabregas, who aggravated his hamstring problem in the Nou Camp.

"We want to deal well with the two psychological blows that we had recently and that's our purpose. If we manage to do that then it will be advantage.

"We need to keep the confidence level high by keeping the results going that we have achieved recently. Since November, I feel this team has taken off.

"While in the last month we have lost the Carling Cup final and gone out of the Champions League, but if you had a global view of the last three months then you had every reason to be optimistic."

Wenger, though, accepted: "Tomorrow's game has big significance of course as the targets now that we have in front of us are the championship and FA Cup."

Wenger believes Tuesday night's capitulation in the Nou Camp should not be taken in isolation.

"You have to analyse this tie in the two games," he said.

"People say that we did not have a shot in this game, but we had more shots than Barcelona in the first game and we would have had shots in this game had it remained 11 versus 11 in the last 30 minutes."

The Gunners boss insists his battle-weary squad should be able to bring plenty of positives from their European disappointment.

He continued: "Overall they can gain a lot of confidence, as overall the attitude and quality that we have shown in the two games was, for me, outstanding in different departments, offensively and defensively.

"The team can gain a lot of credit and belief as well."

Veteran Spaniard Manuel Almunia will return to the starting XI tomorrow, with Wojciech Szczesny set to be sidelined for around six weeks as Wenger looks for emergency goalkeeper cover.

The 33-year-old had seemed set to leave Arsenal during the January transfer window after struggling with form and injury.

Wenger, though, has been impressed with Almunia's approach to the situation.

"Manuel Almunia is very professional, [has a] very dignified attitude and overall he has done very well," the Arsenal boss said.

"Yes, he has done quite well when he came on [against Barcelona] and was quite busy in the final part of the game and he did very well."

Wenger does not expect any of his senior squad to be happy just warming the bench, adding: "When I took Jens Lehmann out, who [had] made only one mistake, and put Almunia in, Lehmann came in the next day and fought even harder. That's what I believe our job is about."