LONDON (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger rounded angrily on his critics ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Champions League last 16 first leg tie against Bayern Munich.
Wenger was in a tetchy mood on Monday after suffering a barrage of abuse from fans and pundits following his side’s FA Cup exit on Saturday, when the Gunners were beaten 1-0 at home by Championship side Blackburn.
That represented the second humiliation of Arsenal’s lacklustre campaign following their elimination from the League Cup at the hands of fourth-tier Bradford.
After enduring 48 hours of criticism in the court of public opinion, Wenger made it clear he felt it was time for him to have his say, and that he expected his players to back up his words on the pitch against a Bayern side currently top of the Bundesliga thanks to 18 victories from 22 league games.
“We play for Arsenal Football Club, we are in the last 16 of the Champions League, we have qualified for a long, long time,” Wenger said at a pre-match press conference.
“What is important is not what people say but what we produce on the football pitch.
“We live in a democracy of experts and opinions and we have to live and cope with that. We have to show we have the mental strength to deal with any opinion. There are a lot of experts who are not always right.”
Many critics claimed Wenger was wrong to send out a starting line-up against Blackburn that had not included Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere or Santi Cazorla.
But all three came on as substitutes with the game goal-less and Wenger refuted the accusation that he doesn’t take the Cup seriously.
“Look, I have been accused of not taking seriously the FA Cup on Saturday. I won the FA Cup four times,” Wenger said.
“Who has won it more? Give me one name. The second thing is that we have been accused of not putting a strong team out.
“That is an insult to the players who started the game and we didn’t lose the game with the players who started. We lost in the last 20 minutes.
“There is a lot of superficial analysis that you cannot accept. We have to take the blame because we went out but for the rest you have to put it in perspective. One guy says something and everybody goes the same way.”
Despite Wenger’s protests that he is unfairly treated, reports on Monday claimed the Frenchman was set to be given a new two-year contract.
Yet even that story provoked an oddly angry reaction from Wenger.
“That is the wrong information,” he said. “I have worked for 16 years here in England and I deserve a bit more credit than wrong information.
“That report had only one intention and that is to harm. It came from nowhere and is completely wrong.”
Wenger has a selection headache at the back as Laurent Koscielny is not fully fit at a time when Arsenal’s defensive ranks have been depleted by the absence of all three left-backs.
New recruit Nacho Monreal is cup-tied in the Champions League, Kieran Gibbs is injured and Andre Santos has been sent out on loan.
Arsenal have been guilty of poor starts to games in the Premier League against some of the bigger clubs, conceding early goals against Manchester City and Chelsea and Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta is keen to put that right.
“In the last few big games in the first 20 or 25 minutes we gave the opposition too much respect,” he said.
“We want to face a different scenario, If you score first then you have a chance of winning.”
German forward Lukas Podolski is likely to start against his former club but Wenger hasn’t felt the need to quiz him for information.
“Podolski has not played for a long time at Bayern Munich and the team has changed since,” he said.