Wenger insists on chances in France

Norman Fox hears a frustrated manager take strong line over Europe
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The Independent Online

Having lost the plot in their Champions' League matches last November, Arsenal have been warned by their manager, Arsÿne Wenger, that both the fans and himself demand that they make up lost ground in the credibility stakes when they face Olympique Lyonnais, in France on Tuesday and at Highbury eight days later.

Having lost the plot in their Champions' League matches last November, Arsenal have been warned by their manager, Arsÿne Wenger, that both the fans and himself demand that they make up lost ground in the credibility stakes when they face Olympique Lyonnais, in France on Tuesday and at Highbury eight days later.

Arsenal's defensively inept 4-1 defeat by Spartak Moscow before Christmas, following a 3-0 setback against Shakhtar Donetsk, not only hit Wenger and the fans hard, it also damaged the London side's standing in Europe, which is enormously important to a club looking to stay among the top half-dozen in order to make an expensive move to a new stadium more viable.

"There is no doubt that performance against Spartak was the worst in my time at Arsenal," Wenger said, "and the players know that they have to make it up to me and, more importantly, the fans." Arsenal are currently bottom of Group C, which also includes Bayern Munich, who beat Lyon 1-0 in November when Arsenal were struggling.

Following the game against Spartak, Arsenal lost a two- goal lead to Bayern Munich at Highbury in December, which also embarrassed Wenger. "It became a psychological problem, but I believe that is now cured. We were mentally weak, especially in the second half of matches, and as soon as we did not get our way we lost our game and our confidence.

"The Spartak Moscow result was a huge disappointment. The team now owe it to everyone, not just me, to makeup for it. It was a bad, bad performance."

The anomaly Wenger finds difficult to understand is how a team that could beat Lazio2-0 at Highbury and draw in Italy could have failed so badly in the later stages of the competition. "The second group stage was linked with our form in the league, and we were not doing well. The situation now is that although it's hugely important for us to finish in the top three in the Premier Division, we need to show we have overcome our problems in Europe.

"At the moment the opposition in the Champions' League is not very good, but we are bottom of the group. To have a chance we must have a good result in Lyon, but they are a very difficult side to play: solid and well organised and very quick up front. They will play on the break, so we must not be exposed. It's a must-win game. We don't want to be needing a win in Munich in the last group game."

The players he most respects in the Lyon side are the strikers Sonny Anderson and Steve Marlet, "who are both very dangerous". Significantly, while Arsenal found Moscow Spartak such a problem, when Lyon met them on their own ground in December they won 3-0, with Marlet scoring after only two minutes and Anderson adding two more first-half goals. Clearly, that suggests that the absence of Martin Keown will be a serious problem.

For Wenger, being French always imposes special difficulties when Arsenal play in France. "Of course I enjoy going back to France, but it's probably easier to be focused when we play in somewhere like Russia, because in France everyone wants to talk to you."

He concedes that Man-chester United "are already through to the next phase" and that Leeds "are in a better position than us". United, he said, "had a much more difficult first group stage, but in the second they had an easier one".

In spite of that near relation to a compliment, he could not help mentioning that, in his view, United's much-trumpeted commercial link-up with the New York Yankees was "just window dressing".

* Nicolo Galli, a member ofArsenal's FA Youth Cup winning team last season, has been killed in a car accident in Italy. Galli, 17, a centre-back, was on loan to Bologna.

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