Wenger: Places up for grabs

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has challenged each of his players to show they deserve a place in the starting XI.

Last Updated: 15/03/13 at 14:52 Post Comment   

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged each of his players to show they deserve a place in the starting XI over the final 10 games of the Barclays Premier League season.

Both captain Thomas Vermaelen and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were left out against Bayern Munich in midweek, but could return for Saturday's trip to Swansea.

In their absence - with Vermaelen an unused substitute while Szczesny did not even travel to Germany - the Gunners battled to a memorable 2-0 victory at the Allianz Arena, which was in the end not enough to progress through to the quarter-finals as they went out on the away goals rule.

Wenger will now regroup his squad for a match crucial to hopes of forcing their way back into the top four and with it securing another crack at the Champions League.

To do that, the Gunners boss maintains all the players need to focus on delivering their own A-game every time, or risk being replaced.

"All the players are in the same position. Nobody's guaranteed places in the team," said Wenger, whose only confirmed team news on Friday morning was full-back Kieran Gibbs would be rested after completing his first 90 minutes since recovery from a thigh problem so Nacho Monreal is set to come in at left-back having been cup-tied in Europe.

"Every position is up for grabs. You have to face it like that, the last game decides the next one.

"Everybody faces the same competition and the players who [have] come in have been on the bench for a long, long time.

"They all have the same problem, the job of being a top-level competitor is to deal with that."

Wenger, though, maintained both Vermaelen and Szczesny were "outstanding" members of the group.

"Thomas has a fantastic attitude. He's a guy who is absolutely outstanding with his attitude and motivation," said Wenger.

"He has played many games in many positions and is a very important player in our squad.

"They know there might be rotation with the three centre-backs - Vermaelen, [Laurent] Koscielny and [Per] Mertesacker."

Szczesny was given a breather in midweek as Wenger revealed the Poland international had been "mentally affected" by the number of games he played this season.

Lukasz Fabianski's last appearance was more than a year ago, but did his case no harm with a solid display and some impressive saves.

Wenger, though, maintains 22-year-old Szczesny continues to have his full confidence.

"Who gave Wojciech a chance from nowhere in the youth teams? It was me because I rate him highly and have a big respect for what he has done, he said.

"But we all have ups and down physically and mentally and he has played many, many games this season, he is a young goalkeeper.

"Maybe I should have rested him in the cup games, but I did not do that."

If Arsenal are to gatecrash the top four again over the closing weeks of what has been an inconsistent campaign, then Wenger accepts his side - again without England midfielder Jack Wilshere because of an ankle problem - cannot afford many more off days.

"For us, every game is a cup final," said Wenger, whose side are currently fifth, five points behind Chelsea and seven adrift of third-placed Spurs, albeit with a game in hand.

"If you ask any club, the first priority will be to be in the Champions League. For us, it is the same.

"It will be our main focus and if we can do it again, that is our target. It will give us a chance next year to fight at the top level."

Arsenal were beaten 2-0 at home by Swansea earlier in the season, but in their FA Cup third-round tie came from behind to draw 2-2 at Liberty Stadium before knocking Michael Laudrup's side out in the replay.

Wenger said: "Swansea is always a difficult place to go, they have now won the League Cup and they are one of the teams of the season.

"We will need to repeat the game we had at Bayern Munich - solidarity, fighting spirit and win at all costs.

"We have to keep the positives and be inspired for the rest of the season by this positive result.

"I always believe we have the quality to be in the top four, 10 games is a long way to go and it is now down to consistency."


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