herald

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Wenger keen to focus on the football amid Russia tensions

Arsenal boss hopes Europa visit of CSKA will not affect players or fans at Emirates

GUNNING FOR GLORY: Arsenal players limber
up in training ahead of tonight’s Europa League
quarter-final first leg clash with CSKA Moscow Photo: PA
GUNNING FOR GLORY: Arsenal players limber up in training ahead of tonight’s Europa League quarter-final first leg clash with CSKA Moscow Photo: PA

Arsene Wenger is hopeful that current diplomatic tensions between Russia and the United Kingdom will not impact Arsenal’s Europa League meeting with CSKA Moscow tonight.

CSKA visit the Emirates Stadium before the second leg of their quarter-final takes place in the Russian capital a week later.

The tie comes against the backdrop of heightened diplomatic tensions between the British government and the Kremlin over the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury last month.

Diplomats have been expelled from both countries, while there have been calls for England to boycott this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Arsenal’s meeting with CSKA comes at a time when relations are at a low point - but Wenger does not want the match to be involved in the current political stance of their respective countries.

Affect

“Honestly, nobody knows really what’s going on.” he said.

“It looks more to be diplomatic relations between England and Russia at the moment are a bit complicated. I just hope it won’t affect both ties and that it will not affect the supporters.

“Nor for the Russian people who come over here and not for English people who want to travel there.”

The Europa League now represents Arsenal’s only opportunity of silverware this season, while a return to the Champions League only looks feasible by winning this competition.

The Gunners are 13 points adrift of the top four with just seven games remaining and replicating

Manchester United - who won the Europa League last season but only managed to finish sixth in the Premier League - remains on the cards.

Wenger has seen his side beat Ostersund and AC Milan to reach the last eight - winning both of those ties following an impressive showing away from home in the first leg.

This time around they welcome CSKA to London before travelling for the return leg and Wenger admits he would rather play at home second.

Asked if he would prefer the legs to be reversed, Wenger said: “Ideally yes, but then again if you want to do well in Europe you don’t choose.

“You accept the problems you face and you sort them out and you solve them. That’s down to the quality teams and nobody always has the ideal way.

“If you want to go far you have to accept at some stage that you have to play first at home and then away.”

Arsenal’s chances of booking a place in the semi-finals have been boosted by the return of Alexandre Lacazette.

The France international has not started a game since the 3-1 defeat at Swansea on January 30 but is available following knee surgery - with Wenger ready to throw him back into the starting line-up after a scoring cameo off the bench in Sunday’s win over Stoke.

“Lacazette is ready to start, yes,” he added.

“I have not decided if he will start or not yet, but he’s available and ready to start.”

Wenger’s other selection dilemma comes in goal, with the 68-year-old refusing to reveal whether he would select David Ospina - who has been first choice in the Europa League - or Petr Cech, who is fit again following a minor groin injury.

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