Wenger targets Champions League

Wenger targets Champions League

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has his sights set on securing Champions League football at West Brom on Sunday.

The Gunners went into the final game of the 2005/2006 campaign behind rivals Tottenham in fifth place and needing a favour from West Ham.

Spurs eventually lost 2-1 at Upton Park, while the Gunners beat Wigan in what was their final match at Highbury.

Afterwards, it was claimed by then Tottenham manager Martin Jol a bug caused by food poisoning at the team’s hotel had depleted his squad’s performance on the day.

An investigation by the Health Protection Agency ruled the pre-match meal was not the cause of the virus, with tests on the players showing one had a form of gastroenteritis which may have spread to the others affected.

Wenger, though, feels there is no need to dwell on the past as his team look to serve up a vintage display at The Hawthorns, which would make whatever Spurs produce against Fulham, now managed by Jol, irrelevant.

“I don’t know why they should come out with that if it is not true. It can happen that you have a problem like that,” Wenger said. “They were at West Ham and we were quite down against Wigan – we were 1-0 down.”

Wenger joked: “I didn’t cook that day. If I had cooked, then more of them would have been ill!”

The Gunners boss added: “We will eat here [on Saturday night].”

Arsenal announced yesterday long-serving number two Rice, 63, will leave his role after 44 years with the club.

Former centre-back Steve Bould is to be promoted from his current role as youth team coach, which for Wenger will make it a seamless transition as the club moves forward.

“One coach doesn’t make a new era. It is the team and the players,” he said. “What is important is that we make all the things right. Good players on the pitch make a good team.”

Wenger has challenged Arsenal to play the game and not the occasion when they head to West Brom, out to cement their place in the Champions League next season.

The Gunners would have already been assured of third place in the Barclays Premier League had they managed to beat Norwich last Saturday, when the thrilling 3-3 draw did not prove too costly as other results went their way on Sunday.

With a slender one-point lead over Spurs and two from Newcastle, there is little margin for further error by a team which has drawn the last three games.

Throw in the fact Sunday will be Roy Hodgson’s final game in charge at The Hawthorns before he takes over at England, and everything is set for a fascinating encounter.

Wenger, though, wants to keep things simple as he targets victory.

“We have a massive game in front of us, but I feel we are focused, switched on. I am confident we will do well,” said the Arsenal boss, who has guided the club into the Champions League for the last 14 seasons.

“For us it is just to find the right mixture – to be focused, combative and relaxed, and especially be faithful to play our football like we want to. At the end of the day it will be down to playing well, no matter what is at stake.”

Arsenal could have Theo Walcott back from a hamstring problem at The Hawthorns, with the England winger set to rejoin training today.

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