Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger Risks More Damage by Taking Defensive Gamble

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger Risks More Damage by Taking Defensive Gamble

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley in Belgrade

ARSENAL have encountered little resistance during their Europa League campaign to date yet Arsene Wenger is still taking something of a defensive gamble in Serbia tonight.

Cologne and BATE Borisov proved themselves to be limited opponents yet both still scored against the Gunners and so hopes for Red Star Belgrade's prospects were raised among the local journalists here when it emerged who Wenger had left behind.

With Shkodran Mustafi sidelined due to a hamstring injury and Laurent Koscielny resting his troublesome Achilles, Wenger chose to exacerbate a shortage of centre-backs by keeping Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal back in London.

Wenger's assertion that Arsenal plan to take the Europa League seriously has so far been undermined by his team selection for each game and it is understandable he has one eye on Sunday's Premier League game at Goodison Park, especially after a chastening defeat against Watford last weekend.

With Jack Wilshere alongside him, Wenger arrived for his media duties to field questions over Arsenal's strength of character for the umpteenth time but this time a result of an unusually outspoken opponent in Troy Deeney.

The Gunners lacked "cojones", according to Deeney, and the whole sorry mess at Vicarage Road was a reminder Wenger is never far away from a crisis. Wilshere rejected that claim, while Wenger declared his "love" for his players but the risk the Frenchman runs here is another morale-sapping night by exposing inexperienced or undercooked players to what promises to be an intimidating atmosphere created by a crowd of around 51,000.

"The support of the team always has a positive impact but we have the habit to deal with that -- we have those stadiums in England and we have long experience in the Champions League," said Wenger. "I don't think that will have a negative impact on us. But, of course, we are in a country which has a big football tradition so we expect a game with huge commitment from everybody. …

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