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Finished grieving: Wenger tells Arsenal to embrace Europa League pressure

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger holds training on Wednesday on the eve of their Europa League quarterfinal first leg with CSKA Moscow. AFP
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger holds training on Wednesday on the eve of their Europa League quarterfinal first leg with CSKA Moscow. AFP

Finished grieving: Wenger tells Arsenal to embrace Europa League pressure

Arsene Wenger says Arsenal have “taken the time to grieve” after their League Cup pummelling by Manchester City and are ready to face the pressure of a Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow on Thursday night (at 2:05am Cambodian time).

The Gunners are sixth in the Premier League, a huge 13 points off fourth-placed arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Only the top four sides in the Premier League qualify for the Champions League, which means Arsenal’s only realistic route back into European club football’s elite competition is by winning the second-string Europa League. It is also the only trophy they can lift this season.

Thursday night sees the north London giants host CSKA in the first leg of their last-eight clash.

Veteran Arsenal manager Wenger is well aware of what is at stake.

“There is some extra pressure on us to do extremely well in this competition,” he said. “That’s part of being where we are.

“We have to see it as an opportunity.”

Arsenal have won their past four games since the disappointment of two 3-0 defeats by English champions-elect Manchester City in the League Cup final and the league were followed by a shock 2-1 league loss to Brighton.

“We were very disappointed with our results against City,” said Wenger. “It takes time to grieve and to recover. But because the mentality in the team is very good, strong and healthy we’re recovered.

“I think always you judge a team by the way they come out of a crisis. On that front I believe that is very positive on our side.”

Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal since 1996 but has yet to win any European silverware with the club, although they were beaten on penalties in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, the forerunner of the Europa League, and lost to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.

‘Forget the past’

The season following Arsenal’s loss to the Spanish giants, CSKA captain and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was between the posts when the Russian side beat the Gunners 1-0 in a Champions League group game in Moscow in October 2006.

Akinfeev, however, told reporters at a pre-match press conference at the Emirates on Wednesday: “I don’t want to live in the past. It is a different Arsenal and a different CSKA – let’s move forward and forget about the past.”

He added: “We are going to have a tough challenge. If we have the same performance as we did in France against Lyon then we have a chance of making the semifinal.”

Wenger has a fully fit squad, with France international Alexandre Lacazette available following knee surgery.

Lacazette came off the bench to score in last weekend’s win over Stoke.

“Lacazette is ready to start, yes,” said Wenger. “I have not decided if he will start or not yet, but he’s available and ready to start.”

Wenger also refused to reveal whether he would stick with David Ospina, who has been Arsenal’s first-choice Europa League goalkeeper, or go with Petr Cech, fit again following a minor groin problem.

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