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Wenger focus on bigger issue

Published: Tuesday 28 March 2006, 13.52CET
Arsène Wenger believes the emotion surrounding Patrick Vieira's return "will be forgotten" as soon as the Arsenal FC-Juventus quarter-final begins.
by Andrew Haslam
from London

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Published: Tuesday 28 March 2006, 13.52CET

Wenger focus on bigger issue

Arsène Wenger believes the emotion surrounding Patrick Vieira's return "will be forgotten" as soon as the Arsenal FC-Juventus quarter-final begins.

Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger hopes the club's former captain Patrick Vieira will be afforded a warm welcome on his return to London but is keen to ensure his players remain focused on the task in hand as they take on Juventus in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.

'Nine fantastic years'
Vieira left London last summer to move to Turin in a €20m transfer, and Wenger believes the Highbury crowd will pay fitting tribute to the French international. "I hope he gets a great reception because he gave nine years to this club - nine fantastic years," Wenger said. "It will be a pleasure to see Patrick again, but he is still a major force and we must work hard to restrict his influence."

Notable absentees
Arsenal are still without Sol Campbell, who bruised a toe in training, and Fredrik Ljungberg due to a calf problem, but the Serie A leaders are also missing two influential figures in Alessandro Del Piero (thigh) and Pavel Nedvěd (suspended). The former will also sit out next week's second leg, though Wenger was anxious not to place too much importance on those absentees, saying: "When players are missing, other players with different qualities come in. Juventus have a big squad, and sometimes when fringe players get a chance they are hungrier to succeed."

Extra pressure
Wenger's side have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of the European Champion Clubs' Cup and are England's sole surviving representatives this season, but the manager is nevertheless in relaxed mood. "Of course the pressure increases with each passing round, but I enjoy that and I think the players enjoy it too," he said. "We knocked out Real Madrid [CF] in the last round, who are one of the best teams in the world, and we played two top-quality games then. This is a similar situation as we are not favourites again, although Juve play a completely different game to Madrid."

Renewed belief
It will be a night of reunions with Thierry Henry facing his former club, and presents Arsenal's young team with another opportunity to cement their burgeoning reputation, particularly in the UEFA Champions League. "This competition has been a key part in our improvement," said Wenger, whose side have conceded only two goals, the lowest of the eight quarter-finalists. "Our form in the Champions League has allowed this young team to believe again, and we have transferred that to the Premiership. We believe we are strong again."

Travel disruption
Fabio Capello's pre-match preparations were disrupted by Juventus's late arrival in London, which meant the Italian outfit were unable to train as planned at Highbury on Monday evening. The Juventus coach is aware that his players will need to be on their defensive mettle, saying: "Arsenal have very good players and they always try to attack, especially at home. They are always dangerous, especially on the counterattack, as they have great pace, particularly in Henry."

English defeats
The Bianconeri have tasted defeat on their last four trips to England, including a 2-1 reverse at Liverpool FC at the same stage a year ago, and have won just twice in 15 visits to the country. Capello recognises that his side cannot afford the sort of lapses that allowed Liverpool to score twice in the first 25 minutes of last season's tie, and ultimately go on to the semi-finals. "In European games every team tries to make the most of home advantage, so we will have to be very careful and try to hit back whenever we can."

Last updated: 28/03/06 20.51CET