Wenger looks for proof of pedigree

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The Independent Football

Having witnessed the comparisons, inflated for now, of his team's worth, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, did his best yesterday to bring some perspective to proceedings. His team is good, he maintained, but not great. Not yet, anyway.

Having witnessed the comparisons, inflated for now, of his team's worth, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, did his best yesterday to bring some perspective to proceedings. His team is good, he maintained, but not great. Not yet, anyway.

"I think there is no comparison at the moment because we have not achieved what these clubs have done," he said when reminded of the superlatives ranking his players alongside Ajax of the 1970s and Milan of the early 90s after the 5-1 dissection of Portsmouth at the weekend.

"We are far behind because these teams have won everything in Europe," Wenger added before tonight's tie, holding a 3-2 away lead, against Celta Vigo for a place in the last eight of the Champions' League. "Ajax won three European Cups on the trot and we have won, at the moment, nothing."

It was that Ajax side - and the Borussia Mönchengladbach of the same decade - who inspired Wenger. "Ajax were certainly the first team in relation to my generation because they had the perfect players everywhere," he explained. Wenger's own philosophy is clear. "Our purpose is not to say are we a great team or not but to try to improve, try to get better," he said. "You don't try to copy. I try every time to add good players to the team based on movement and technique. We know we are mobile, we know we are technically good." And, ominously for Arsenal's rivals, he added: "Every year, style-wise, we look as if we have moved a little bit forward."

His team is also very young but it is not Thierry Henry or Patrick Vieira who he turns to, as role models, when expounding his theories. But Martin Keown. "He has done, with his talent, the maximum," Wenger said. "That's your first target." Substance to add to the style may be his goal but he will not lose sight of the latter either. Great teams have both. "If people say we play well and they enjoy the game we play then that is fantastic," he said. "But the other part of it is to win."

Wenger is cautious about this tie even though Celta could not arrive in worse shape. They too were involved in 5-1 result on Saturday evening - but it went against them. Furthermore the goals were scored by Espanyol, one of only two teams below them in La Liga in what has turned out to be a desperate relegation battle. Last year's fourth place seems a long way away even though the Galicians have made minimal changes to their squad.

Wenger, aware of the aggressive threat posed in north-east Spain two weeks ago, was having none of it. "I'm under no illusion that they will come and say 'okay, we'll let you qualify'," he said. "I think Celta Vigo are a good opponent and I believe they are much better than how they play at the moment in their league." His players will need to be "100 per cent focused" in what he expects to be a full-blooded cup tie against a side which beat the holders Milan away last autumn.

Arsenal (probable 4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Gilberto, Vieira, Edu, Pires; Henry, Bergkamp.

Celta Vigo (probable 4-2-3-1) Cavallero; Velasco, Sergio, Mendez, Silvinho; Luccin, Jose Ignacio; Jesuli, Mostovoi, Edu; Milosevic.

Referee: P Collina (Italy)

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