Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his side to prove they are “a big team” by responding reacting to recent defeats with a strong performance in their final Champions group game against Steaua Bucurest.
Beaten for the first time in 28 matches by Sevilla FC on Matchday 5, Arsenal also surrendered their unbeaten domestic record at Middlesbrough on Sunday.
The Premier League pacesetters looked ordinary without injured quartet Cesc Fabregas, Aleksandr Hleb, Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini at the Riverside Stadium, yet Wenger is confident his side can return to winning ways.
“We lost a game, we have not been good and now we want to respond,” he said. “What we have built in the last six months has not disappeared because of one game. We feel this is the start of an era, the start of something big. If you want to be a big team – and we feel we are – you have to respond to a defeat.”
An Arsenal victory combined with a Sevilla defeat Slavia Prague would enable the English team top of Group H, though Wenger downplays the significance of winning the section.
“It’s a slight advantage to play your second game at home,” he conceded. “But two years ago we came second, played Real Madrid and Juventus, and went to the final. Last year we finished top and lost to PSV Eindhoven.”
With one eye on Sunday’s encounter with Chelsea, Wenger will rest several established players and offer youngsters like Armand Traore, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner more playing time, as well as recalling experienced goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Van Persie and Abou Diaby could also feature after injury.
Bottom of the group with a solitary point, Steaua have only pride to play for, and their coach Marius Lacatus expects a tough encounter.
“Arsenal may play a weakened team but they’ll still have eleven top-class technical players on the pitch,” he admitted. “I just want my players to give a good account of Steaua. If we play well and lose because our opponents were better then I will not be disappointed.”
“We’re slowly improving and a good result in London will give us the confidence we need to take back to Romania,” added Lacatus, who must cope without suspended midfielder Marius Croitoru and injured duo Banel Nicolita and Pawel Golanski.