Arsenal FC may know that another win against Fenerbahçe SK could take them through but manager Arsène Wenger is concerned about bouncing back from two disappointing league results and a growing injury list.
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Arsenal FC could potentially secure their passage to the last 16 on Wednesday, while Fenerbahçe SK stand on the brink of UEFA Champions League elimination. Yet it was hard to tell which coach was showing the strain more on the eve of their Group G contest in London.
For leaders Arsenal, three points combined with a victory for FC Dynamo Kyiv against FC Porto would ensure their qualification. The focus of Arsène Wenger's pre-match briefing, however, was a vigorous defence of his players against the accusation they lack the stomach for a fight following Saturday's 2-1 loss at Premier League newcomers Stoke City FC.
"When you question the courage of my team, I am sorry – the team that tries to play football respecting the rules is the brave one," said Wenger, who at the weekend saw attackers Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott extend an injury list also including captain William Gallas and Emmanuel Eboué. Bacary Sagna, who also hobbled off at Stoke, should be available, though, having trained on Tuesday.
'Not been efficient'
Arsenal have now lost three Premier League games – as many as in the entire 2007/08 campaign – and Wenger, citing a "hangover" from the 4-4 derby draw with Tottenham Hotspur FC, added: "The problem is not the bravery of my players ... the problem is we have not been efficient in some games. Let's re-establish what we have not done well recently – defended well as a team – and continue to play the game we can play in a positive way." Mindful of Arsenal's domestic troubles, the manager considers it "important to qualify as quickly as possible" in Europe and can take heart from how the UEFA Champions League has previously provided a restorative for his side, their past two Premier League losses being followed by 4-0 defeats of FC Twente and Porto.
The fact Fenerbahçe, beaten 5-2 at home by Arsenal on Matchday 3, have not recorded an away victory over 90 minutes in the competition for four years means the pressure is definitely on the Turkish visitors. They have just one point and a reverse here will eliminate them if Dynamo win the group's other fixture. Like Arsenal, Fenerbahçe also arrive fresh from a domestic disappointment. Luis Aragonés's men lie ninth in the Turkish Süper Lig after winning only four of nine matches and let slip a lead in drawing 2-2 at Eskişehirspor on Saturday, a setback compounded by the loss of captain Alex to a thigh strain. Fortunately for Aragonés, the fit-again Deivid is available to fill the playmaking void.
Speaking of playmakers, Aragonés knows as well as anyone the damage that Arsenal's Cesc Fàbregas can do following their shared triumph with Spain at UEFA EURO 2008™. "Fàbregas is an extraordinary player but principally what bothers me is my own team," Aragonés said. "We have our strengths and we have to show them. We made some mistakes in the first game but every game is different in the Champions League and we go out to win every game – tomorrow that will be our aim."