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Arsenal 'desperate' to play in Champions League

ESPN staff
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Arsene Wenger's side have reached the Champions League for each of the last 16 campaigns © Getty Images
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Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal are "desperate" to qualify for the lucrative group stages of the Champions League and challenged his side to beat Besiktas "no matter what it costs".

Wenger's side will fly to Istanbul on Monday following a dramatic stoppage-time 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on the first day of the new Premier League season on Saturday.

There is, however, little opportunity for Wenger's squad to regroup before focus turns to extending the record of reaching Europe's elite club competition for each of the last 16 campaigns.

Qualification would bring with it some £7 million in prize money, with each subsequent group home match worth around £3m of additional match-day revenue.

Wenger knows all too well what is on the line against Slaven Bilic's side, who defeated Feyenoord 5-2 on aggregate in the third round of qualifying when former Chelsea striker Demba Ba scored a hat-trick in the second leg.

"We are desperate to do it because we want to play in the Champions League and we know how big these games are," Wenger said. "We are desperate to go through. No matter what it costs we want to go through.

"We always have a difficult draw, we had Fenerbahce last year, this time we have Besiktas, so it is difficult."

Wenger added: "The preparation for us was a Premier League game we had absolutely to win, that's the best preparation for confidence.

"Now the preparation will be mainly to recover and to study Besiktas."

With Besiktas' Vodafone Arena ground being redeveloped, Tuesday night's match will take place at the 72,000-seater Ataturk Olympic Stadium, where Liverpool famously beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League.

Reports in Turkey suggest the home fans are preparing a hot reception for Wenger, whom they feel was critical of the club following their 8-0 defeat at Liverpool during the 2007-08 group stages.

"They are specialists at doing that. I never said that. They always create things like that. I am used to playing Turkish teams and I never said that," Wenger replied.

Arsenal will assess both defenders Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) and Laurent Koscielny (Achilles), which could mean an earlier than expected recall for German World Cup winner Per Mertesacker. Koscielny, though, could feature after he trained with the squad on Monday.

Wenger confirmed: "It was our plan to bring the Germans back in contention for Everton, but in case of emergency I will take Mertesacker.

"It is a bit early for him. Ideally we would need one more week preparation, but he is willing to play, no problem."

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