Arsene Wenger has reiterated the importance of this evening’s clash with Napoli well aware that a heavy defeat and a subsequent Champions League exit could seriously harm his squad’s confidence ahead of a busy Christmas schedule.
Arsenal currently top Group F but know that a loss by three goals coupled with a win for Borussia Dortmund against Marseille could see them drop to third – and the Europa League – by end of play this evening.
Quizzed on whether the game was more important than the two Premier League clashes with Manchester City and Chelsea, the boss told media at his pre-game press conference:
“This game certainly. It is to be in Champions League or not. The other two games, not definitely, we are five points ahead. The championship is a marathon.
“We will be in race no matter what happens, it will show ours strengths hopefully. Tomorrow [tonight] is a decider, that is for sure.”
Facing a fanatical atmosphere at Stadio San Paolo – check this – the boss accepted that the crowd will play a role but that his players had the experience to cope with everything thrown at them from the terraces.
“The atmosphere is part of the big games, we know how to deal with that. You have that everywhere. We played everywhere in Europe, we are used to this kind of atmosphere, when you go from Fenerbahce to Dortmund, you are used to this kind of atmosphere.”
As reported yesterday Arsenal’s squad remains relatively unchanged for the trip to Italy. While in years gone by final group stage fixtures have represented an opportunity for wholesale changes, this time around Wenger said he can’t afford to take risks.
“I cannot afford to do that [rotate]. We will try to rotate a little bit at times, but never more than two or three players because the stability of the side is so important.
“When you play so many games, sometimes in one game you have a feeling the legs are a bit tired, but sometimes the game after they surprise you again and everybody has recovered.
“At the moment we have a stable squad. In some positions I rotate more than others where the stability is important. But overall we have no major signs of fatigue medically.”