Wenger: Arsenal tried to sign Messi, we couldn’t

Matt Stead

Lionel Messi’s place in the Arsene Wenger ‘I almost signed XI’ after the Arsenal boss spoke on Friday.

Wenger has also refused to criticise television scheduling despite his Arsenal side’s demanding fixture list – insisting the revenue made from rights deals can help Barclays Premier League clubs re-establish themselves in Europe.

The Gunners travel to face Everton in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, despite not landing back from their Champions League defeat in Barcelona until early on Thursday morning.

Arsenal will kick-off at Goodison Park with an 11-point gap separating them from league-leaders Leicester and, with a number of injuries, the lack of preparation time could well cost Wenger’s side.

But, with a new domestic television rights deal coming into effect from next season worth £5.136billion to the Premier League, the Frenchman reckons teams will just have to accept games will be moved for screening purposes.

“Does the schedule in England help or not? I would say overall no,” Wenger said.

“The TV do not pay all that money and then say: ‘Oh, finally, we pay you and don’t want an audience’.

“We have to accept that, it’s not an excuse, we have squads of 20 or 25 and it should be enough. I could change six or seven players between Watford and Barcelona. It’s not too bad.

“But it’s not an excuse because we dealt with it before, we had English teams playing in the final of the Champions League before and all of them with the same schedule.

“I wouldn’t like to say it’s the fault of TV if we go out, I don’t believe that at all. We went out because I think Barcelona is one of the best teams I’ve played in my career.”

It was a sixth-straight round of 16 exit in the Champions League for Arsenal – who also crashed out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage to Watford last weekend.

Manchester City are the only Premier League representatives in the last-eight of the Champions League, something Wenger said was “not good enough” and the usual suspects of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are present in the latter stages once more.

But Wenger feels the boost in finances from the aforementioned bumper television deal can have an impact on English clubs getting back to a strong position in continental competitions.

“I don’t accept it, believe me,” Wenger replied when asked if Premier League sides need to accept they are not currently as strong as some of Europe’s top clubs.

“But I must say on the other hand as well, Messi is Messi. Neymar is Neymar. They play in Barcelona. Did we miss them? Yes. But we tried to get Messi, we couldn’t.”

Asked how to bridge the gap, Wenger said: “By getting the players here. The quality of the players, football belongs first to the players and the quality of the players.

“I believe that with more income in England the best players will slowly all come to England and that will be the answer.

“For years we were in England always in the last, sometimes you played an English team in the quarter-final and the semi-final of the Champions League. I believe we’ll come back again.”