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Wenger: We're in better mental shape

ESPN staff
February 18, 2014 « Mertesacker wary of 'untouchable' Bayern | Chartbeat test »
Lahm wary of Arsenal threat


Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal side are in a better mental state than a year ago as they prepare to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League again.

The Germans claimed a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium at the same stage of the competition last season and have only lost two competitive games since Arsenal won 2-0 at the Allianz Arena last March.

Bayern progressed on the away goals rule and Wenger, preparing his team for the last 16 first leg on Wednesday, admitted his side cannot afford to concede at home this time around.

"I think we are in a better mental shape than last year. We are determined to win this game," Wenger said. "Last year we went out on the away goal, that shows it's important not to concede at home.

"We have a strong team spirit that is for sure, we have a united team and we have a stronger belief now. All the players have recovered well from Sunday [FA Cup win over Liverpool]. There are no new injuries, [Tomas] Rosicky will come back in."

Wenger also agreed with Mathieu Flamini's suggestions that, following their FA Cup victory over Liverpool on Sunday which avenged a 5-1 league defeat at Anfield, his Arsenal side have restored their fight.

"We always had quality [in our team], but not always the belief. The belief is built by results and on that front we are stronger, of course. I am sure we will do well.

"We face the favourite of the competition and what we have is big belief. We have only had big games in the Champions League and FA Cup and from the start of the season, we have known in every single game we have absolutely to be 100%.

"We know we can do it, but that is down to the quality of our performance. Every minute counts in a game of this stature. We are conscious of that and try to start very strong. We have had our own strength recently and that is we don't give goals away. That will be vitally important in this tie.

"We are in a strong position. It's now down to us how well we can, from game to game, show the same focus and spirit we showed against Liverpool [in the FA Cup]."

Following an increasingly unseemly war of words with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, Wenger played down the significance of his personal duel with Bayern coach Pep Guardiola.

"The main heroes are on the pitch, not on the bench," Wenger said. "If you look at the history of the Champions League, you will see it is always the big players who make a difference. After [a game] the analysis is always adapted to the team that wins, but most of the time is the big players who make the difference on the pitch.

"Football is not a chess game [between managers]. It belongs to the players when the game starts, do they make the right decisions on the pitch. We as manager prepare for teams to do well, we take responsibility when it doesn't go well, but the main heroes are on the pitch, not on the bench."

"With the quality of the players on the pitch on both sides, it's nearly impossible to play without style. All the quality players are exceptionally gifted people and they will produce a quality game."

Similarly, Wenger is backing his central defensive duo of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to shine against Bayern, as he believes the duo have given Arsenal a steely quality that was lacking in his side for a long period.

"Mertesacker and Koscielny complement each other well," Wenger said. "They play a lot of games together now and that helps as well. The have thrown through statistics that they are a very reliable pair in the centre of the defence. It is a good opportunity to show it tomorrow against a team with very strong offensive potential."

Meanwhile, defender Mertesacker believes Bayern are "untouchable" and have set a new benchmark under current boss Guardiola.

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