[QODLink]
Football

Struggling Arsenal focus on Europe

After a torrid start to their domestic campaign, manager Arsene Wenger seeks a morale-boosting Champions League victory.
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2012 15:17
Arsenal sit in 10th place in the English Premier League after a 2-0 home defeat by Swansea at the weekend their worst start to the season since Wenger became manager in 1996 [GALLO/GETTY]

Arsene Wenger has told his Arsenal stars to banish the fear factor as the struggling Gunners try to secure a first place finish in their European Champions League group.

Wenger's side travel to Olympiakos on Tuesday in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory after Saturday's 2-0 home defeat against Swansea left the north London club teetering on the brink of a full-blown crisis.

Arsenal, languishing in 10th place, have made their worst start to an English Premier League season in Wenger's 16-year reign and the sense that their club is in decline has prompted a furious response from Gunners fans.

Some supporters staged a protest march before the Swansea match to underline their frustration at the Arsenal board's failure to back Wenger in the transfer market, while many more unleashed a torrent of abuse at the Frenchman and his players after the final whistle.

Mental toughness

In the circumstances, Arsenal could do with a win in Athens which, combined with a draw or defeat for Schalke at Montpellier, would allow Wenger's men, who have already qualified for knockout stages, to snatch top spot and secure a potentially easier draw in the last 16.

But to achieve that goal the Gunners will need a stronger mental approach after crumbling too easily under pressure in recent weeks.

"At home, we [Arsenal] look like we play a little bit with the handbrake. It is not fluent, there might be a psychological component in there as well. "

- Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

"At home, we look like we play a little bit with the handbrake. It is not fluent, there might be a psychological component in there as well," Wenger said.

"There was no movement or speed in our passing and we looked laboured, not sharp.

"We had a lot of possession, but they created more chances than we did. We have to find a solution to this because we turn teams around without hurting them."

While Wenger would love to finish top of the group, he acknowledges that Schalke are likely to win their tie against a Montpellier side already eliminated from the tournament and, with that in mind, he may not send out a full-strength team against Olympiakos.

"There are many players who need a rest, because they are on the verge of getting injured and some played with knocks," Wenger said.

"But we hope that we get a good performance at Olympiakos because it is important for us."

Bad news

To make matters worse, Arsenal will travel to Greece with heavy hearts after Gunners chairman Peter Hill-Wood suffered a heart attack on Sunday following a bout of pneumonia.

Hill-Wood is recovering in hospital, but concerns over his health put Arsenal's struggles into perspective and Gervinho, the club's Ivorian striker, claims winning the group is not that important.

"Whether you finish first or second, there will always be some big teams in the next round," he said.

"If a team has qualified for the last 16, it's because there is a lot quality in it, so the further you go in the competition, the tougher it gets.

"Our objective is to finish top of the group, but if we finish second, it won't be the end of the world either.

"Look at Real Madrid, they are sure to finish second, so if you win your group, you could still face them in the last 16.

"The most important thing is to be in great form before playing in the knockout stages."

Arsenal have faced Olympiakos twice in the previous three seasons, losing each of their ties in Athens.

But the Greeks have little to play for as they can't qualify for the last 16 and are already guaranteed to go into the Europa League as the third-placed team in the group.

723

Source:
AFP
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
Afghan militias have accumulated a lengthy record of human-rights abuses, including murders and rapes.
Growing poverty is strengthening a trend among UK Muslims to fund charitable work closer to home.
A groundbreaking study from Johns Hopkins University shows that for big segments of the US population it is.
Critics claim a vaguely worded secrecy law gives the Japanese government sweeping powers.
A new book looks at Himalayan nation's decades of political change and difficult transition from monarchy to democracy.
join our mailing list