ARSENE WENGER openly admits he will not gamble with the fitness of any of his first-team regulars against Olympiacos in their final Champions League group game and intends to give the youngsters another chance to impress.
With safe passage into the knockout stages already secure, Wenger will bring a youthful squad to Athens today to give some of his walking wounded a chance to recuperate ahead of the vital Premier League trip to Liverpool on Sunday.
Forwards Theo Walcott and Eduardo both missed the win over Stoke on Saturday with minor injuries, while Czech winger Tomas Rosicky was substituted at half-time with a groin problem which could keep him out for a month.
William Gallas, Emmanuel Eboue, Armand Traore and Andrey Arshavin all suffered knocks in the 2-0 win, leaving Wenger with something of a selection headache ahead of tomorrow night’s European tie.
However, given the group is already won and there is nothing other than pride resting on the outcome, the Gunners boss is ready to give those players who helped reach the Carling Cup quarter-finals another chance of big-game experience.
“In the competition as a whole this season, the boys did really well and I am extremely proud of them. I will give some of them an opportunity on Wednesday, for many reasons,” Wenger said.
“At the moment, we have so many players injured that we cannot take any gambles; also you must give players a breather when you can.
“You will see Fran (Merida), (Jack) Wilshere etc. We played Manchester City last week and they had a full side out. For an hour we did not suffer at all. I will try to build a similar team in Greece.”
Wilshere became Arsenal’s youngest player in both Europe and the Premier League when introduced in the early part of the 2008/2009 campaign. However, the 17-year-old midfielder has been used sparingly this season, making just five appearances in total, three as substitute.
Wilshere, who turns 18 on January 1, has been linked with a loan move but hopes to play a major part for Arsenal this season.
“I would think about it (a loan move), but I think it would have to be in the Premier League,” he said.
“I have seen things about Middlesbrough, Celtic and Rangers being interested and there may be others, but a Premier League side would be better.
“I would, of course, rather stay and be involved at Arsenal though.”
Olympiacos, coached by Brazil legend Zico, are currently unbeaten at the top of the Greek domestic league and recently beat arch-rivals Panathinaikos.
A draw would be enough to see Olympiacos – who lost 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in September – safely through to the last 16 ahead of Standard Liege.
With Robin van Persie sidelined until April at the earliest following ankle surgery, Wenger is likely to be in the market for a striker when the transfer window opens in January.
The Arsenal manager, though, laughed off suggestions he would be in for former Manchester United forward Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Fellow Dutchman Klaas Jan Huntelaar, along with Bordeaux’s Marouane Chamakh and 19-year-old Barcelona striker Bojan Krkic are all names on Wenger’s reported wanted list. However, the Arsenal manager cautioned: “Let’s not dream too much in January that we can find a world-class player, who is what is needed to strengthen our team, who is not cup-tied in the Champions League and who is free.”
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