UDINESE (0) vs ARSENAL (1)
Arsenal boss fears high-profile departures could derail his team ahead of match that will define his budget and campaign
EMBATTLED Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger goes into tonight’s £40m Champions League play-off with Udinese admitting he fears the departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas could inflict psychological wounds on his already injury-hit team at the worst possible time.
Midfielder Nasri left the squad yesterday to complete his protracted £24m move to Manchester City, just seven days after Wenger admitted defeat in his battle to keep captain Fabregas from Barcelona.
Wenger concedes the loss of arguably his two best players in successive weeks could further damage the morale of a side who have amassed more red cards than they have points from their first two Premier League matches.
But he insists the high-profile losses cannot be used as an excuse if they fail to transform the slimmest of first-leg leads into a result that prevents their season from unravelling almost before it has begun.
“There is always a concern [that players can be affected] but it is not an excuse. You are always concerned about the consequences it can have on the team,” said Wenger. “It can have a positive consequence as well. If you are strong mentally it can increase the solidarity, knowing you have to fight more. That is what you want from mentally strong players.”
Victory would guarantee Arsenal a place in the group stages and a tilt at the knockout rounds, which together is worth around £40m in prize, TV and matchday revenue. A run to the later stages would be worth even more. Defeat, however, would banish them to the Europa League, where central cash pots are hugely reduced.
Tonight will therefore determine Wenger’s budget for the rest of the transfer window as well as how attractive a destination Arsenal remain.
Compounding the departures of Nasri and Fabregas is an injury that is likely to sideline midfielder Jack Wilshere until after the weekend trip to Manchester United, while full-back Kieran Gibbs and centre-half Laurent Koscielny remain injured.
However Wenger will take his place on the touchline after all, following governing body Uefa’s decision to suspend his ban until an appeal is heard. Alex Song, Gervinho and Emmanuel Frimpong are all available despite domestic bans.
Wenger is amid the most turbulent period of his 15-year reign, yet he said the pressure he felt was “not more, not less”. He added: “I want to win every single game I play for Arsenal. The rest of the pressure is created by your [the media’s] environment but I have enough experience to take a distance from that.”
KEY FIGURES | EURO MILLIONS
£26m – amount Arsenal earned last term for reaching Champions League last 16, in prize and TV money alone
£15m – estimated amount they earned on top in matchday revenue
£47m – amount finalists Man Utd earned in prize and TV money alone
£7m – what Europa League winners Porto took home in prize and TV money