Arsene Wenger: Arsenal will finish above Aston Villa

30 January 2009 08:53
He respects the West Ham of Gianfranco Zola and Matthew Upson, grudgingly admires Martin O'Neill's Villa but believes Arsenal will finish ahead of the Midlanders. [LNB]Wenger sought to flick away concerns that Arsenal might struggle to make the Champions League, dismissing talk of a "financial Armageddon'' and trying to turn the table on the doubters. "If I ask you 'what does it mean if your house burns down?' you will tell me 'why should my house burn down?' That is exactly the same for me.'' [LNB]The analogy briefly silenced inquisitors at Arsenal's London Colney retreat on Friday afternoon. Yet Wenger's house is under attack from the footballing fireworks lit by Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry. Surely Villa were a very real threat? "Wait until the end of the season,'' shrugged Wenger. [LNB]"We will finish above Aston Villa. I've nothing against O'Neill. But you ask me who will be Manager of the Year and you have to wait until the end of the year. Villa have played well until now. But you judge a marathon at the end. No one remembers who was leading after 20 miles. [LNB]"Finishing outside the top four does not worry me because we have a good opportunity to be in there. My team have overcome a lot of criticism and have a strong character.'' [LNB]His confidence stemmed from the anticipated arrival of Andrei Arshavin for £12 million (plus add-ons) from Zenit St Petersburg, from his belief that Arsenal had enough tough guys in central defence and central midfield and, particularly, from the vibrant form of Robin van Persie. [LNB]Arshavin first. As Wenger spoke, the "breaking news'' line on the rolling news service on a nearby screen claimed that the Russian had succeeded in gaining a work permit. As foreign players require the endorsement of an English club, Arsenal were assumed to be far advanced with the paperwork for the talented striker. [LNB]"We have not applied for a work permit yet for Arshavin or anybody else,'' Wenger said before talking so excitedly about the player that it would be a major upset if one of the stars of last summer's European Championship and Uefa Cup did not sign. [LNB]"He's a guy who can go past people in the final third,'' enthused Wenger. "He is an experienced player, 27, a good age, and we are a young side. We will not have [Cesc] Fabregas in the next six to eight weeks, Walcott in the next five weeks, Rosicky in the next eight weeks and, in a big club, you are under pressure to have a player or two or three who gives something special. [LNB]"You need always to have a creative unit if we want to play the kind of football we want to play: on the ground and moving the ball quickly because we play against teams who have 10 players at the back.'' [LNB]Arshavin and Samir Nasir would not require a ball each, according to Wenger. He can see the two aspiring playmakers dovetailing, despite each having a tendency to start on the left and drift inside. [LNB]Fans' concerns that the team require steelier individuals, stiffening midfield and defence, did not register with Wenger. "I believe we have the necessary quality in the middle because Diaby develops very well, Song develops well. I don't believe Denilson gets the credit he deserves. At the back you can see the quality of players we have like Gallas and Kolo and Djourou; they are in their national teams and to find better players is not easy.'' [LNB]Wenger then addressed why he rarely paired Gallas and Toure. No personality clash scarred their relationship. Toure had not lost the talent that made him one of the best defenders in Europe three years ago. [LNB]Any incompatibility was simply tactical, insisted Wenger. Two of the Premier League's shorter centre-halves got caught out aerially. "I can play Gallas and Toure together,'' he stressed, "but when the ball is in the air, it is a bit of a handicap. Djourou is tall, 6ft 4in. Djourou is 21, he will be better and we have to give him a chance.'' [LNB]Once again this season, Arsenal will look to Van Persie for inspiration. The Dutchman has been the pre-eminent performer, steering the team through choppy waters, much to Wenger's gratitude. "Robin has two ingredients which are very important - the talent and the motivation.'' A new contract should soon be on the table. "We will try to sort him out and Walcott,'' added Wenger. [LNB]

Source: Telegraph