Confident Wenger Shows Fergie and Ranieri the Way

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Byline: MICHAEL HART

ARSENE WENGER, plotting the latest stage in Arsenal's defence of the Double, has rejected accusations of arrogance from his great rival at Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson.

The French coach confessed that he was confused by Ferguson's latest suggestion that overconfidence could undermine Arsenal's attempts to retain the Premiership title they took from United last season.

"I don't know what he means by 'overconfident'," said the Arsenal manager today. "I tell my players to be confident in their ability.

"That doesn't mean they're arrogant or flashy. I don't think you can accuse them of that. I have confidence in them because I know their ability, their spirit and their determination to win it again.

"There's a long way still to go but we believe we can do it again. I'm confident and so are my players. I'd rather be in our position than anyone else's at the moment."

Arsenal's England defender Sol Campbell and the club's vice-chairman David Dein have already dismissed Ferguson's claims of arrogance at Highbury.

Arsenal, who meet United at Highbury on 15 April, hold a five-point lead over Ferguson's team at the top of the Premiership, though tomorrow they will be concentrating on the FA Cup.

"I have a team in mind that will give us a good chance of progressing," said Wenger.

"People seem to think that I have a team I select just for FA Cup matches, but I pick a team that I think will do the job well. Last week, for instance, I made six changes to the team for a Premiership game against Charlton."

Meanwhile, Claudio Ranieri has waited nearly three years for his first win over Arsenal.

Will it come tomorrow?

"He needs to be patient," smiled the Arsenal coach. "I think he's already shown himself to be a very patient man. That's an important quality in a football coach."

The last visiting team to win an FA Cup tie at Highbury was George Graham's Leeds United, just three months after Wenger's arrival at Highbury in September 1996.

Since then the holders have been an invincible force in the FA Cup at Highbury. Undefeated in their last 13 home FA Cup ties, they've twice won the trophy and finished runners-up once in the past five seasons.

Chelsea haven't beaten Arsenal in any competition since their 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in the 1998 League Cup semi-final, so a win tomorrow would considerably enhance Ranieri's standing. …