Defiant Arsene Wenger has dismissed talk of divisions at Arsenal as "lies" - and backed his squad to make the critics eat their words.
Wenger is facing one of the toughest spells of his 16 years at the helm following the Gunners' shock League Cup penalty shoot-out defeat at npower League Two side Bradford on Tuesday and inconsistent Premier League form. Reports have emerged of a growing rift between the manager and his assistant Steve Bould, while senior players are also said to be questioning the direction of Wenger's leadership and continued faith in some members of the underperforming team.
Wenger, though, hit back as he spoke to the media this morning ahead of Monday night's Premier League game at Reading, insisting the squad were fully focused despite continued negative headlines. "We are a united staff and team. You can unfortunately not control all the lies that are written in the newspapers," Wenger said.
"I believe it is a good opportunity to show that we are strong inside the club and let people talk. We are criticised when our results are not good - we have to take that on the chin, but that we have to face a lot of lies is less acceptable."
Wenger added: "This team cares, is serious and wants to do well, I do not question the spirit of the team. I have a strong squad, I believe we have a very strong team. It is down to us to prove me right."
Much was made of Arsenal's failure to see off the Bantams at Valley Parade, where Wenger had fielded a strong side as he looked to keep on course for ending a seven-season trophy drought. Wenger, however, maintained there had been no complacency and challenged his team to now channel their energy into beating Reading.
"In 16 years, it's the first time we have gone out against [a team from] a lower division. It is one time too many, but our record still shows we have been consistently focused on the competition," he said. "We prepared (for) the game seriously and I don't believe there is much more to say about that.
"We have to swallow that and take care of what's important - the future. Our season will not be judged on how well we do in the Capital One Cup, but how well we do in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. For the rest, there's nothing to add.
"We are top professional people. What is important is what happens tomorrow, not what happened yesterday. We are sorry for that (the Bradford defeat) but what is important is the next game."
Arsenal's second-largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov has called for Thierry Henry to take a "more important role" back at the club, with another loan move from the New York Red Bulls in the pipeline. Wenger, though, maintained as yet that prospective deal had not moved forwards. "I cannot tell you anything about it because nothing has happened," he said.
Wenger will assess his squad over the weekend, but expects striker Olivier Giroud to be in contention again following a back problem, while defender Laurent Koscielny has resumed training after his thigh injury. England winger Theo Walcott (calf) continues to be monitored.
The Arsenal manager also reported "slow progress" on the recovery of France midfielder Abou Diaby, who has been sidelined by a muscular problem since the end of September. "I cannot give you any fixed date because we are a bit in no man's land on that front," Wenger said. "He is working, but we are waiting for him to come back. He is not ready."