By Chris Harris
Arsène Wenger does not feel the Uefa Cup has been devalued this week - even though Tottenham and Aston Villa tumbled out of the competition after fielding weakened teams.
With a place in the last 16 up for grabs, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp omitted a number of key players and saw his team lose on aggregate to Shakhtar Donetsk. Villa suffered a similar fate after Martin O'Neill took an under-strength squad to CSKA Moscow for the second leg of their tie.
Villa are of course challenging Arsenal for a place in next season's Champions League - they lead the Gunners by six points with 12 Premier League matches remaining. Tottenham meanwhile face Manchester United in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday and are still embroiled in a battle against relegation. Wenger understands why Redknapp and O'Neill protected their stars.
"I believe that the Premier League is so important," said the Frenchman at his pre-match press conference.
"That is the priority, for two reasons: Aston Villa, because they want to fight at the top. Tottenham, because they do not want to go down. They have prioritised what is the priority of every big club.
"No [I am not annoyed they fielded weakened teams]. Everybody is free to make their own decisions.
"In football it is always better if you win. Sometimes you try to combine resting players and winning. When it doesn’t work it’s difficult to measure the positive impact of resting important players and the negative impact of losing games.
"Every manager is confronted by that, we are always trying to find the balance."Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 27 Feb 2009