Arsène Wenger has challenged Arsenal FC to prove they are "a big team" by reacting to recent setbacks with a strong showing against FC Steaua Bucureşti.
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Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger has challenged his side to prove they are "a big team" by reacting to recent setbacks with a strong performance in their final UEFA Champions League Group H game against FC Steaua Bucureşti.
Beaten for the first time in 28 matches by Sevilla FC on Matchday 5, the Gunners have also faltered on the home front, drawing with Newcastle United FC before relinquishing an eight-month undefeated domestic record at Middlesbrough FC on Sunday. The Premier League pacesetters lacked spark without injured quartet Cesc Fabregas, Aleksandr Hleb, Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini at the Riverside Stadium, yet Wenger is confident his side can make a swift return to winning ways.
'Start of an era'
"We lost a game, we have not been good and now we want to respond," said the Frenchman, who begins a touchline ban having been sent to the stands at Sevilla. "What we have built in the last six months has not disappeared because of one game. We feel this is the start of an era, the start of something big. If you want to be a big team – and we feel we are – you have to respond to a defeat."
An Arsenal victory combined with a Sevilla slip at SK Slavia Praha would take the English outfit top of Group H, though Wenger downplays the importance of winning the section, saying: "It's a slight advantage to play your second game [in the first knockout round] at home. But two years ago we came second, played Real Madrid [CF] and Juventus, and went to the final. Last year we finished top and lost to PSV Eindhoven."
With one eye on Sunday's meeting with Chelsea FC, Wenger will rest several established players and offer youngsters like Armand Traoré, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner more playing time, as well as recalling experienced goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. "He has had a fantastic attitude," Wenger said of the German who has not played since August. "He's a super professional and an example for everybody." Van Persie and Abou Diaby could also feature after injury.
Bottom of the group with a solitary point, Steaua have only pride to play for, and their coach Marius Lăcătuş expects a difficult evening. "Arsenal may play a weakened team but they'll still have eleven top-class technical players on the pitch," said the former Romania forward, who became the Bucharest club's third coach this season when he replaced Massimo Pedrazzini in October. "I just want my players to give a good account of Steaua. If we play well and lose because our opponents were better then I will not be disappointed."
Lăcătuş's priority is to get the 1986 European champions back on top of their domestic league. They are fourth, eleven points behind leaders CFR 1907 Cluj, but have not lost in six outings and beat FC Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt 1-0 on Sunday thanks to Valentin Badea's goal. "We're slowly improving and a good result in London will give us the confidence we need to take back to Romania," explained Lacatus, who must do without suspended midfielder Marius Croitoru and injured duo Bănel Nicoliţă and Pawel Golański.