Wenger looks for European lift

Arsene Wenger believes a strong performance in tonight’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu would provide just the spark needed to re-ignite their domestic campaign.

The Gunners will again be without several first-team regulars, particularly in defence – and will need to produce their finest performance of an under-achieving campaign to give them any chance in the second leg at Highbury in a fortnight’s time.

Wenger, though, feels it is also an opportunity to regain some self belief in the battle to force their way back into the top four of the Barclays Premiership, and so secure another crack at Europe’s elite club competition.

“I am convinced that for us for the rest of the season it is important that we do well,” the Arsenal manager said.

“We have been swimming against the stream for the whole year – no matter what we did it was always negative vibes.

“Then we had a lot of injuries and the team has shown strong mental resistance.”

Wenger reflected: “When you start the season you think the back four will be Lauren, Kolo Toure, [Sol] Campbell and [Ashley] Cole. We played the whole of January and February without them.

“So it was not a easy period for the team, but when we lost the games we did, it was only just – and we nicked a few points as well.

“We have shown we have some players with top, top quality.”

Arsenal will at least have Jose Antonio Reyes back in the squad after the Spaniard recovered from a badly bruised leg.

England full-back Cole has resumed training following his thigh injury but will not be risked and instead feature for the reserves against Barnet later today.

Mathieu Flamini is expected to continue on the left side of defence, while Freddie Ljungberg could be pressed further forwards and youngster Theo Walcott is set to be on the substitutes’ bench.

Wenger maintained he would have no qualms about introducing 16-year-old Walcott at some stage tonight.

“I am not scared to put him in if i is needed,” he said.

“I don’t think he will start the game but I have not taken him to please him - I have taken him because if there is some space there he can come on and take advantage.”

The Arsenal boss added: “The good side of the difficult period we are having at the moment is that the young players are maturing quickly.

“That kind of experience is worth six months training for a young player. Personally I feel what the young players do is amazing at that level.

“I am convinced we are close to becoming a really strong team again. But I can talk and talk it is about results.”

Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas joined the Gunners from Madrid’s rivals Barcelona but the 18-year-old maintains that, while returning to play in his homeland is “special”, doing his best for his current side is all that really matters.

“I am an Arsenal player and all I want is great success for the team,” he said.

“It is a special game when you come back to your home country – even more so when it’s against Real Madrid. I just worry about playing well and winning.”

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