Wenger calls for positivity and unity
Arsene Wenger has called for Arsenal to produce a "united front" on and off the field when they run out at the Emirates Stadium for tomorrow night's UEFA Champions League play-off first leg against Udinese. The Gunners today saw their captain Cesc Fabregas rejoin Barcelona after reluctantly letting him return to the Nou Camp in a £35m deal, bringing an end to the long-running transfer saga.
In the opening game of the new Premier League campaign at Newcastle on Saturday - which ended goalless and with summer signing Gervinho sent off - travelling supporters expressed their desire to see new signings. Wenger, though, remains steadfast in his belief all is not yet lost as the squad prepares for an early test of their credentials in order to make it through to the lucrative group stages of Europe's elite club competition once again.
"I just expect my team to have a good game tomorrow and that will encourage their belief and strengthen their belief. At the moment that is the most important thing," Wenger told a press conference. "I understand everybody's worry, but I believe as well a club is a united front. Our players need the support from our fans. It is an important period for this club, but I am confident we will get over it in a very successful way. We need to remain united and not let the media manipulate our fans in a way they should not."
Arsenal have been linked with a string of players this summer, from England defensive duo Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill to Manchester City's wantaway striker Carlos Tevez. While Wenger insists Arsenal are "not frightened to spend money", the Gunners boss is not about to lay out millions of pounds just for the sake of it.
"To spend the money on a top player is defendable, but just to spend the money is like you are worried," he said. "Our fans can be proud of the way we run this club, of the quality of player we have and of the financial situation that is existing at the club. Rather than convicting this club, they have more reason to be proud of the whole situation here. We have built a team and a stadium in such a short space of time, and have a strong financial situation - and we always survived at the top level. There are more reasons to be positive than the negative ones being sold by everybody."
Wenger, though, knows failure to beat Udinese convincingly tomorrow night - when the Gunners are without suspended duo Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie - will leave more unanswered questions. "You never knock somebody from Italy out in an easy way so we prepare ourselves for big challenges," he said. "But we know we are prepared for that and we are ready to give our all to be part of the Champions League group stage. We will try to give our best to win the game tomorrow without conceding goals. I expect a game of 180 minutes where we will have to be at the top for as long as we can and not dream that after 90 minutes it will be over. That would be the right approach."
Wenger must also serve a one-match touchline ban imposed by UEFA following the fall-out from Arsenal's Champions League exit away to Barcelona last season, where Swiss referee Massimo Busacca had controversially dismissed Van Persie and came in for heavy criticism from both the Arsenal manager and Nasri. "The preparation is exactly the same - the only thing is I cannot go into the dressing room. I hope that will not have a big impact," Wenger said.
At Newcastle, Alex Song was fortunate not to be sent off for a stamp on Joey Barton, which flamed the emotions of the midfielder in the lead-up to the melee which saw Gervinho sent off. Wenger confirmed Arsenal intend to appeal Gervinho's red card, received for slapping Barton, and which would rule him out of the next three domestic games - including match-ups with Liverpool and Manchester United. Song could yet face a disciplinary rap from the