Bruce sticks up for Wenger
Steve Bruce has branded criticism of Arsene Wenger "ridiculous" as he attempts to pile more pressure on the under-fire Arsenal boss. The Sunderland manager takes his side to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday knowing exactly how the Frenchman feels after having to deal with the fall-out from the Black Cats' own poor start to the new season. However, he is aware that the focus on a manager who has spent much of his time with the Gunners at the business end of four competitions is magnified many more times. Bruce said: "Listen, we are all open to criticism because of the job we are doing, but Arsene Wenger and what he has achieved, to criticise him is, for me, ridiculous. "He has had a poor start for the first time in 20 years, is it? Certainly, he has qualified for UEFA (Cup) or the Champions League in the last 14 or 15 and produced great teams. "As I have said many times when we have played Arsenal, I think he has been to the detriment of the young British manager because clubs have looked at the job Arsene Wenger has done. "Let's be fair, it was one of those when he walked in, (people said) 'Arsene who?'. "But certainly, most clubs have then thought, 'Let's go and get the new Arsene Wenger', and there are not many of those around. He's a terrific manager. "It gives us all hope, I have to say, if we have got the audacity to question Arsene Wenger. What he has achieved there, it's quite remarkable." Sunday's game represents a clash between the sides currently sitting in 15th and 16th places in the Premier League table, with Arsenal only a point better off than this weekend's visitors. That is way below expectations for both, although with the Gunners, who have won only two of their seven league games to date but are perennial members of the top-four club, their plight seems all the more extreme. There are mitigating factors, of course, with Wenger having lost key men Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri during the summer, although Bruce is convinced that, just like his old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger will succeed in his latest rebuilding mission. He said: "He built one of the great teams we have seen here; (Dennis) Bergkamp and (Patrick) Vieira and (Emmanuel) Petit and Overmars and all of that lot were a great, great team. "That changed the mentality of the Premier League. They were big, strong, powerful. "I remember my first game with Birmingham playing against them and thinking to myself, 'Oh my God, look at this lot, they are all 6ft 2in, 6ft 3in', and we had a team of midgets. "Then of course, he has changed tack a little bit and built a new Arsenal team and a new Arsenal way, if you like. He's a great manager." Bruce and his players will travel south without striker Nicklas Bendtner, who is ineligible under the terms of his loan deal with Arsenal, and that could mean a first Premier League start for either South Korea international Ji Dong-won or England under-21 international Connor Wickham. Asked about Ji's chances of playing, Bruce said: "I have said many, many times, the boy is only 20 years old and he and Connor have been bought for the years ahead for Sunderland. "He will be a great player for Sunderland, I have no doubt about that, but we must remember that he's 20. "He's knocking on the door, he has been involved in every game we have played and he will continue to be so. "He is certainly in my thoughts. I have got to make a decision on who I am going to play."
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