By Richard Clarke in Porto
Arsène Wenger takes charge of his 700th Arsenal game this evening but, for once, he does not know the importance of the result.
The Frenchman travelled to Porto for the final game of Champions League Group G with a Club record of P699 W408, D163, L128. He says every one of those 128 defeats has left him with “a terrible pain”. But with Arsenal already qualified and only the dubious honour of top spot at stake, surely Wenger will not suffer too much tonight whatever the result.
The manager has injury problems but he admits Robin van Persie could have played despite a “stiff thigh” while Emmanuel Adebayor is rested completely. With an arduous early kick-off at Middlesbrough on Saturday and only a point needed to take the Group G ‘crown’, Wenger is not planning any celebrations as he reaches this particular milestone.
Topping the table means Arsenal are guaranteed a second-place team in the last 16 and the return leg of that tie at Emirates Stadium. However, only last season, Wenger’s side knocked out Milan via a stunning second-leg victory at the San Siro. In addition, over the last three seasons the reputation of Arsenal’s Knockout Round opponent has meant little – they have beaten Milan and Real Madrid yet lost to PSV Eindhoven.
That, and the nature of tonight’s side, leaves this game a little in limbo.
“Yes I do want to win the group,” confirmed Wenger at his pre-match press conference. “With a draw we can finish first and I think we can manage that but I have looked well at all the possibilities and I don’t really know if there is a big advantage to doing it or not.”
Samir Nasri (ankle), Gael Clichy (hamstring) and Cesc Fabregas (knee), Bacary Sagna (flu), Kolo Toure (calf), Van Persie (thigh) and Adebayor (rested) are all missing. William Gallas (calf) and Abou Diaby (abdominal strain) are back.
Nicklas Bendtner will certainly start up front. The question is whether Diaby will be pushed forward into a 4-4-1-1 or Carlos Vela will be used in a 4-4-2. Before the game, Wenger suggested the Mexican would be used and, given his Primera Liga experience on the left wing, he could fit into either formation.
“It is normal rotation,” said Wenger. “I have had to leave four or five players out and, as for ones like Adebayor, I want to give them a rest because we play on Saturday morning.
“However I believe this, that team can produce the result we need to finish top of the group and that’s the only reason why I have made these decisions. There are many injuries and many people who have played a lot of games. So we are not in a position where we need to take a big gamble on players.”
Porto, too, have already assured qualification but only victory tonight will give them top spot. Wenger’s side romped to a 4-0 success at Emirates Stadium back in September to take a stranglehold of Group G. Despite some indifferent domestic form, they have barely slackened it since. Porto’s passage has been based on away wins at Kyiv and Fenerbahce, they lost to the Ukrainians at home. But they come into tonight’s game having won six successive games.
“We will not be over confident [after the win at Emirates],” Wenger concluded. “That is a disease we do not have.
“We know that when we travel in the Champions League, they are always difficult games.
“Maybe Porto will play with a bit less pressure because they are already qualified, and that can sometimes make them more dangerous.
“But we will be completely focused and will prepare to be at our best.”
|2. FC Porto||5||3||0||2||7||8||9|
|3. FC Dynamo Kyiv||5||1||2||2||3||4||5|