Wenger urges Arsenal to focus on Premier League
Arsene Wenger has called on his Arsenal players to focus on beating West Ham to go top of the Barclays Premier League tomorrow rather than be distracted by their glamour Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
The Gunners were today drawn against the holders and favourites, whom they lost against in the 2006 final in Paris.
With former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry now plying his trade at the Nou Camp and current Gunners skipper Cesc Fabregas to return to face his boyhood club, the tie certainly captures the imagination.
However, Wenger insists his squad must concentrate on getting the right result when the struggling Hammers come to Emirates Stadium for tomorrow's late kick-off - where victory would see Arsenal leapfrog Manchester United and Chelsea, who are both not in action until Sunday.
"If you go to the bookmakers and try to place a few pounds, you will see that we are not favourites against Barcelona," Wenger said.
"Of course they are a good side, but so are we.
"For me, we have a 50/50 game - if we turn up with our best performance we have a good chance to beat them.
"It will be an interesting, exciting game. We have to make sure we have the belief and focus right.
"For the rest I believe it is much more important to focus on the West Ham game than the Barcelona draw.
"We have fought since August for the championship and it is important we keep our mind on what is vital to us - that is the championship, then we can go into the Champions League with the right belief.
"The West Ham game is the next game, and in football the next game makes your life.
"If we speak about West Ham instead of speaking about Barcelona, that is where we can show we have matured and that we are intelligent."
Wenger, for one, will not be getting carried away in any pre-match hype ahead of the mouthwatering European tie.
The Gunners boss said: "The worry in the modern game is when you go to matches, you do not focus on football any more.
"When Chelsea played against Manchester City, people were more focused on the handshake of Wayne Bridge and John Terry. I was excited to watch a good football game.
"In our job, we have to make sure we focus on what is important and what we love, not the stories which the media dictates to people - it should be about what really matters to people, that means football.
"In my job, I have to make sure that is the case."
Should Arsenal get past Barcelona, then they would face either Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan or CSKA Moscow, with the second leg scheduled for the Emirates.
Wenger added: "We like to think in our job that to play at home in the second leg is an advantage, but it is not proven at all in the statistics.
"These are ties where the quality of your concentration for 180 minutes and the form of the day is very important.
"We have to go into these games with the right focus."
United will face Bayern Munich in a repeat of their famous 1999 final.
Chelsea, though, no longer have European football to sap their energy after losing to Inter.
"Mentally they have a big disadvantage because it is a huge disappointment to go out," Wenger noted, "but physically it is a big advantage."
Arsenal - currently two points behind United and level with Chelsea, although having played a match more - will welcome back Fabregas tomorrow after the influential midfielder missed the wins over Porto and Hull because of a hamstring problem.
However, the prognosis for veteran defender William Gallas is not so positive as he continues to be hampered by a calf injury.
"At the moment, it does not look too good," said Wenger, who confirmed negotiations were continuing over a new deal for the 32-year-old centre-back.
"Will he be ready to play against Barcelona? I would say he is already at 80% out for the first leg, but he should play again before the end of the season."
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