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Victory 'vital' says Wenger

Published: Monday 1 November 2004, 21.45CET
Arsène Wenger believes a home win against Panathinaikos FC will virtually ensure Arsenal FC progress.

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Published: Monday 1 November 2004, 21.45CET

Victory 'vital' says Wenger

Arsène Wenger believes a home win against Panathinaikos FC will virtually ensure Arsenal FC progress.

By Trevor Haylett in London

Only a few weeks ago, Arsenal FC were being talked about as one of the favourites to win the UEFA Champions League. The English champions remain unbeaten but the manner of their last two fixtures in the competition, away games which both ended in draws, has made victory against Panathinaikos FC all the more important.
Run ended
Two unconvincing performances, at Rosenborg BK and then in Athens against the Greek champions, has coincided with the end of Arsenal's unbeaten run of 49 games in the Premiership. Having lost 2-0 at Manchester United FC, last weekend lowly Southampton FC were seconds from earning a surprise victory at Highbury when substitute Robin van Persie produced a vital equaliser. 
Knockout target
The Arsenal faithful will therefore be eagerly anticipating a return to their best form on Matchday 4 and the chance to overtake PSV Eindhoven at the top of Group E. Manager Arsène Wenger believes victory will make his team "80 per cent certain" to reach the first knockout round and says they can take a lot of positives from Van Persie's goal.
Mental importance
"A second consecutive defeat would have been a big blow to us so that goal was maybe more important mentally than mathematically," Wenger explained. Sol Campbell, Edu and Gilberto, who Wenger said will be out for another six weeks at least, are all missing through injury but José Antonio Reyes, who continues to have a problem with a hand injury, has been passed fit.

'Step higher'
"I feel we returned home from the two away games with the minimum results we could make because we should have won both," Wenger added. "To qualify it is vital that we win at Highbury. I still feel we are a step higher than we were last year and we want to show that. My ambition is always to play better football."

Set-piece threat
Panathinaikos will have been encouraged by the disruption Southampton caused in the air with both their goals arriving from set-pieces. It was a topic of discussion at Arsenal's training session on Monday and Wenger said the players share his concerns.
Aerial weakness
"We are not naturally as strong in the air as we were before," the Arsenal manager said. "Sol has the most experience of English football and we miss him in these kind of games. It is up to everyone to be more commanding and a little bit more concerned about our organisation on set-pieces.

'Quality play'
"We are world famous for the quality of the game we play and we just want to go on with that," said Wenger on the subject of the defeat at Old Trafford and allegations of post-match confrontations between Arsenal and Manchester United players. "We are happy with any evidence given by an objective eye on the game but we have no further comment to make."

Poor record
Panathinaikos, who are without injured defenders Ioannis Goumas and Markus Münch, arrived in London hoping to replicate the performance that saw them twice draw level against Arsenal in Athens two weeks ago and seeking to improve on a record of six defeats and a draw in seven visits to England in UEFA competitions.

Sizeable support
Ezequiel González, who scored the first equaliser a fortnight ago and was twice on target against Rosenborg, said: "A draw would be a great result because of our poor statistics in England. It will be a difficult match and we will have to produce one of our best-ever performances to win but I know there are a lot of Greek people living in England and that we will have a big crowd supporting us."

Last updated: 02/11/04 11.43CET