ARSENAL boss Arsene Wenger insists he has no qualms about thrusting keeper Emiliano Martinez into the limelight and handing the rookie stopper his Champions League debut against Belgian champions Anderlecht in Brussels tonight.
Wenger’s hands are tied with regular No1 Wojciech Szezesny suspended after receiving his marching orders against Galatasaray in the last round of group games, while Colombia’s David Ospina is sidelined with the recurrence of a thigh problem.
Argentine Martinez’s only two previous appearances in an Arsenal shirt came in the 2012 League Cup campaign, including a remarkable clash with Reading at the Madejski Stadium during which he conceded four first-half goals in a 7-5 win.
While he believes the 22-year-old will have been bolstered by exposure to first-team football during a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday last term, Wenger insists senior outfield players can play their part in ensuring Martinez’s evening is as relaxed as possible.
“I am extremely confident, because he has experience form Sheffield last year and when he played for us, he did very well,” said Wenger. “I have no special worry.
“He is two years older now than his last Arsenal match and has good experience. He has grown in stature as well but we have to make sure that we make it as comfortable a night as we can for him and that is by defending as a team.”
England defender Calum Chambers will strengthen the Arsenal backline after serving a one-match suspension against Hull City on Saturday and is likely to replace either Hector Bellerin at right-back or Nacho Monreal at centre-half.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere trained yesterday and is pushing for inclusion following the ankle knock sustained at the weekend while Aaron Ramsey is also in contention after a hamstring problem. Highly-rated teenage keeper Ryan Huddart is set for a place on the bench.
Arsenal lie second in Group D after their annihilation of Turkish giants Galatasaray blotted the memory of an abject showing in Germany against Borussia Dortmund on group stage opening night.
But while victory at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium will see the Gunners strengthen their grip on qualification, Wenger – who celebrates his 65th birthday today – is keen to concentrate on the process rather than the outcome.
He added: “We have enough experience to know Anderlecht will be a fierce battle, so let’s focus on our performance and if we produce the quality of performance we know we can, then we have a chance to win this game.”
ALL THE STATS AND FACTS ON ANDERLECHT
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CREDENTIALS?
Anderlecht are in the group stage for a third consecutive year and the 11th time in all. They have finished bottom of the group in all seven group stage campaigns since reaching the last 16 in 2000/01, which saw them qualify for the second group stage in a revamped tournament. In that time, Anderlecht won just four games and their 1-0 success over Zenit in 2012 was their first home win in the competition proper for nine years.
SPURS FAILED TO WIN IN BELGIUM
The 33-time Belgian champions drew their last encounter with an English opponent in December 2007 with a Dimitar Berbatov penalty rescuing a point for Tottenham after winger Bart Goor’s opening strike. Goor’s leveller ended a run of six successive defeats against English rivals.
HISTORY FAVOURS THE GUNNERS
Arsenal’s only previous meeting with Anderlecht came in the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final, which the Gunners won 4-3 on aggregate. Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Arsenal recovered to post a 3-0 victory in the second leg at Highbury, with Eddie Kelly, John Radford and Jon Sammels finding the net.
FAMILIAR FACES IN THE RIVAL CAMP
Ivorian striker Gohi Bi Zoro Cyriac had a stint with Charlton from 2007 until January 2009 before moving to Standard Liege and then Anderlecht. Right-sided player Anthony Vanden Borre played for Portsmouth during the 2009/10 season, appearing as a substitute twice against Arsene Wenger’s side during 4-1 defeats.