Published — Tuesday 19 February 2013
Last update 18 February 2013 11:18 pm
LONDON: Angered by criticism of Arsenal and claims about his future, Arsene Wenger’s irritation boiled over publicly ahead today’s Champions League showdown with Bayern Munich.
Arsenal’s last chance to end a trophy drought stretching back to 2005 is in Europe after being knocked out of the FA Cup by second-tier Blackburn on Saturday.
Wenger was frustrated yesterday by continued questions about that loss, and grew angrier when asked about a report claiming he is in talks about a new contract.
“That is the wrong information and I work for 16 years in England,” Wenger said. “I think I deserve a bit more credit than wrong information that has only one intention: to harm.” Turning to one reporter, Wenger asked: “Why do you look at me?” “Because it’s your press conference,” the reporter snapped back.
“I just thought you had given this information out,” Wenger responded, referring to the report of contract talks.
The Frenchman is facing mounting calls from some Arsenal fans to leave the club he has managed since 1996.
“What is important is not what people say it is what happens on the pitch,” Wenger said. “We live in a democracy of experts and opinions, but we have to live with that and cope with that and show we have the mental strength to deal with any opinion.
“There are a lot of experts who are not necessarily always right.” What is indisputable is Arsenal’s Premier League position: fifth, 21 points behind leader Manchester United and four points behind the fourth spot to qualify for the Champions League.
The only way to qualify for Europe’s elite competition for a 16th straight season could be by winning the European Cup for the first time in May.
First, though, Arsenal must negotiate the two-legged last-16 match against Bayern, which has a 15-point lead in the German title race.
“Football is about skill, intelligence and some things as well are a bit unpredictable,” Wenger said.
“We know well what is going on here. What is important is to forget what people say and focus on our strengths.”
Porto, Malaga ready
for Iberian duel
Meanwhile, FC Porto and Malaga are at the top of their game as they head into their hotly anticipated Iberian duel today.
Porto is on a 19-match unbeaten run in the Portuguese league and stands joint-top with Benfica with a 14-point lead. The two-time European champion is in the tournament’s knockout round for the seventh time in 10 years.
Malaga, meanwhile, lies fourth in La Liga where it has racked up a five-game unbeaten streak. The Spanish club is unbeaten in its debut appearance in the top-tier European competition, finishing top of its group ahead of AC Milan as it profited from the experience of Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini.
“We’re gearing up for what will be a big game. Everyone is looking forward to it,” Porto coach Vitor Pereira said. “I’d even like to play in it myself.” The Portuguese champion won all its home games in the tournament’s group stage, conceding one defeat in six games to claim the runner-up spot behind Paris Saint-Germain.
Porto striker Jackson Martinez is hot property. Playing his first season in Europe, the Colombian is the top scorer in the Portuguese league with 20 goals — seven more than his nearest rival.
He has made the most of the opportunities provided by Argentine playmaker Lucho Gonzalez and Portugal’s Joao Moutinho, who marshal Porto’s midfield. Ghanian midfielder Christian Atsu is also back after appearing at the African Cup of Nations and scored Porto’s opening goal last weekend in a 2-0 win over Beira Mar.
James Rodriguez and Silvestre Varela are recovered from injuries and will probably be positioned on Porto’s flanks, but Belgian midfielder Steven Defour is in doubt with a muscle strain.
Malaga has lost only once in 12 games on the road in Europe — a defeat that came in Porto, against the northern Portuguese city’s second club Boavista, in the UEFA Cup during the 2002-03 season.
Malaga midfielder Ignacio Camacho says his team is looking for a result at the Stadium of the Dragon that will put the club in good stead for the return leg next month in southern Spain, though he isn’t expecting an easy ride.
“We’re going there to win and we’ll try to be faithful to our usual way of playing. Even if we don’t win, we’re hoping for a good result,” Camacho said. “We came up against some big clubs in the group stage and came through it, and Porto is no bigger than Milan. They’re favorites because of their record, but they’ll have to prove themselves on the pitch.” Malaga beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Saturday in the latest sign that it has stayed strong despite the loss of some key players and a continuing wage dispute at the club.
“It was very important for us to win in La Liga and keep fourth place, especially when attention is already turning to the Champions League game,” Pellegrini said.