Arsene Wenger talks up 'very important' month for Arsenal

Arsene Wenger accepts Arsenal are embarking on a "decisive time" as they look to secure a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with victory against Partizan Belgrade tonight and stay one step ahead in the race for domestic glory.

The Gunners went top of the Barclays Premier League after they beat Fulham on Saturday and Manchester United had their match at Blackpool postponed while Chelsea dropped another two points in the 1-1 draw with Everton.

After what he hopes will be negotiating safe passage out of Group H against the struggling Serbians, Wenger takes his men up to Old Trafford for next Monday night's live encounter.

The festive schedule is set to throw up some fascinating encounters as United head to Stamford Bridge the week before Christmas, while Chelsea are at Arsenal on December 27.

"December will be a very important month for us and for everybody," said Wenger.

"When you look at the fixtures, it looks like it is a decisive time for everybody at the same moment in this league.

"The fixtures of Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal are all very big in December."

The Gunners should have already been in the last 16, after a 100% record from their opening three Group H games - scoring 14 goals.

However, successive away defeats at Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga means they must beat Belgrade, who have lost all their five matches, to secure at worst second spot.

Finishing top would require an unlikely victory for Braga in Donetsk, meaning Arsenal are therefore set for a clash with one of the seeds in the knockout rounds.

Wenger, though, is not concerned.

"If you want to win it, you have to play against these big teams," the Arsenal manager said.

"First of all, it is not a guarantee that we play Barcelona or Bayern in the next round - there are some other teams we can play and what happens, happens.

"What is important is not to focus on the teams we might play, we first have to be very pragmatic and qualify first. We will see then who we get."

Arsenal will have Laurent Koscielny available after the centre-half was given the all-clear following a clash of heads with Sebastien Squillaci in the build-up to Fulham's goal on Saturday, but his replacement Johan Djourou, who is carrying a thigh problem, will not be risked.

Holland forward Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, who both came off the bench against the Cottagers, are in contention to start.

Arsenal have been criticised for an apparent soft backline this season.

Russian winger Andrey Arshavin, who has six goals so far, believes the Gunners need to tighten up if they are to push on and have a successful campaign.

"We struggle all the time in defence. We have to score more than we concede. That's it," he said the Russian.

"It is very frustrating. We are trying to improve, but we can't.

"We don't just blame our defenders. Sometimes I can't run, and let defenders cross so the forwards score a goal.

"It doesn't always depend on defenders. As a team we need to improve defensively."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future