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Steve McClaren says there is "no pressure" on his FC Twente players as the Eredivisie outfit prepare to make their UEFA Champions League debut against Arsenal FC on Wednesday.
Their first appearance in Europe's premier club competition is a reward for their end-of–season play-off defeat of AFC Ajax after finishing the regular season in fourth place. Standing between them and group stage football are the Premier League's third-placed finishers and last season's quarter-finalists Arsenal, a team former England manager McClaren acknowledges will start the tie as favourites.
"Everyone I know in England is convinced that Arsenal will go through, so there is no pressure on our players," said McClaren, whose team will play at the Gelredome in Arnhem due to work to increase the capacity of their home stadium to 24,000. "We have to go into the match relaxed with the belief we can we win, but also enjoy it because it's Arsenal. It's the Champions League for the first time in the club's history so it is a momentous occasion."
Other than attacking midfielder Youssouf Hersi, who is still recovering from a knee injury, McClaren has a fully-fit squad to select from for the visit of Arsène Wenger's side, which will be watched by a sell-out crowd. Although the 47-year-old admits his players "do not get the chance to play against Arsenal every day", he is hoping his charges are not in awe of their illustrious opponents and can head into the return leg on 27 August with progression still a realistic possibility. "A good performance - first and foremost that's what I want to see," he added. "You never know, and we want to make sure we go to London in a fortnight still in the tie."
Arsenal are competing in the third qualifying round for the third time in as many seasons and, for their Dutch striker Robin van Persie, failure to reach the group stage is simply not an option. "Arsenal always want to play in the Champions League and I think Arsenal need to play in the Champions League," he said. "If you have good players and a big stadium then I think you need to play at the highest league in Europe."
The 24-year-old is well acquainted with Twente and knows that despite some significant departures from the Enschede-based club in the close season, they will still pose a considerable threat. He said: "They had a great year last year but they lost two of their best players. Karim El Ahmadi went to Feyenoord and Orlando Engelaar went to [FC] Schalke . They were the playmakers. But they got one good player back from [BV] Vitesse, Theo Janssen, so they are still in good shape with a good team."
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