Wenger accentuates positives

ARSENE WENGER’S determination to banish all negative thoughts ahead of tonight’s crunch Champions League clash with Porto at Emirates Stadium has extended to a refusal to practise penalties or wallow in the absence of talisman, Cesc Fabregas.

Wenger revealed last night that he did not let his players practise penalties in training yesterday because he doesn’t want to risk any “psychological scars” if tonight’s second leg goes down to the wire.

At the same stage last season, Wenger’s men squeezed past Roma via spot-kicks. At his pre-match press conference, Wenger confirmed that his side are fully prepared to go the same route this term – and that is why he omitted spot-kicks from Monday’s session.

“Anything which helps us qualify is good,” said the Frenchman. “We always practice penalties in training but not the day before a game because it can have negative influences if you miss.”

Arsenal are 2-1 down from the first leg and haven’t overturned a first-leg deficit in European competition since the UEFA Cup tie against Hajduk Split during the 1977-78 season.

Wenger also maintained Arsenal cannot use the absence of injured captain Fabregas as an excuse for failure tonight.

The influential Spain international suffered a recurrence of a hamstring problem during the 3-1 victory over Burnley on Saturday, limping off after he had fired the Gunners ahead.

Wenger accepts the loss of the Spaniard – who has an outside chance of returning for the trip to Hull on Saturday – is a big blow.

“Cesc has a hamstring problem and we could not even take a gamble with him,” said Wenger.

“I was hoping he would recover after the Burnley game because we were cautious with him. We don’t know how long he will be out. He is having a scan today and we are convinced it will only be a small time, and he has a small chance of getting back for next weekend against Hull, but to play him again (tomorrow) would mean significant damage.”

Wenger, though, admitted: “Ideally we wanted him to be there, but we want to qualify and the absence of Cesc is no excuse at all. We have enough players and a strong enough squad to get round that and have enough chances to qualify.”

With Fabregas out, France international Samir Nasri could move into the centre of midfield, alongside Cameroon defensive midfielder Alex Song, whose domestic two-match ban does not apply in Europe. Wenger feels the 22-year-old – who suffered a fractured leg in pre-season – has come a long way since arriving from Marseille.

“In the last few weeks he has got stronger and more confident,” said the Arsenal boss.

“He is very versatile, can play defensive midfield, attacking midfield and on the flanks. We have a few players like that and I love that.’’

In the Champions League, the Gunners went out after an away defeat to Bayern Munich in 2004-05, lost to PSV Eindhoven in 2006-07 and exited the competition last season to Manchester United after being outplayed over both legs.

Wenger, though, maintains this time is different. “This time, we have scored. When you lose 1-0 away from home it is a difficult game because when you start the next game you know it is almost over because you have to score two or three goals to qualify. This time it is different – if we score one and do not concede then we will qualify.”

Porto were thrashed 4-0 on their last visit to Emirates Stadium during September 2008 – the Dragon’s worst away reverse in the competition. Wenger feels that result will count for nothing when the Portuguese side return to north London tonight.

He said: “I do not think anyone will be complacent. We know it will be a tricky game, but we believe we can do it. We have good confidence, we are in a good position, so let’s go for it.”

For his part, Porto manager Jesualdo Ferreira believes his side have the weapons to win.

Porto have plenty of options in attack – with Colombia forward Falcao, Argentinian Marian Gonzalez, Uruguay’s Cristian Rodriguez and Brazil international Hulk all pressing to be included in the three-man frontline.

“We know what our qualities are and we are confident,” Ferreira said.

“This will be a very difficult match, but we have the weapons which make it tough for Arsenal.

“You need to be able to adapt tactically, but we are always playing to win. We will try to do the same what we did at Estadio do Dragao.”

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