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Premier passion over-rides Wenger´s European ambitions

2 October 2007 12:40

LONDON (AFP) - Arsene Wenger admits he would sacrifice Champions League success to restore Arsenal to the pinnacle of English football.

Wenger has never won Europe's elite club competition but it is not a short-coming that hurts him because the French coach believes coming out on top in the Premier League is the acid test of his team.

He insists the 38-game domestic season will give a true picture of their ability, whereas the Champions League's knockout stages mean it can be won by a team who get a good draw or a lucky break in a big match.

Make no mistake, Wenger will do whatever it takes to ensure his precocious young side extend their winning run to a ninth match against Steaua Bucharest when their Champions League Group H campaign resumes in Romania on Tuesday.

But it is Premier passions that are driving Wenger this season.

The London club maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-0 win at West Ham on Saturday and he is convinced the Gunners are capable of taking Manchester United's title, an achievement which would give him more satisfaction than any of Arsenal's previous three league triumphs during his reign.

"I want the club to win the Champions League, because it's something they have never achieved," Wenger said. "From the personal point of view, it is less important.

"When you are young, you want to win it to be able to tell everybody, 'I'm the best'. Now I'm more experienced, I don't feel the need to say, 'Look how good I am'.

"To be honest, I think it is overrated. It's a cup competition and the real test of a team, and their manager, comes in a championship.

"It has become so difficult to win titles that sometimes the top teams are not at their best in the Champions League. The Premier League is harder to win, it is the hardest club competition in the world.

"If you were to organise a European Club Championship over 38 or 40 games, the team that won that really would be best in Europe."

The closest Wenger has come to being crowned king of Europe came in 2006 when Arsenal led Barcelona with 10 minutes to play in the final in Paris, only to lose to two late goals.

That defeat was the last moment in the spotlight for a host of players who had been key to Wenger's success at Arsenal.

Within a year the likes of Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Dennis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole and Robert Pires had left as Wenger started a revolution that is only now beginning to bear fruit.

The departures of so many experienced stars allowed Wenger to blood his talented crop of youngsters.

Inevitably there were growing pains for the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy. But last season represented their rite of passage.

A campaign that promised so much petered out with three painful cup defeats in the space of only two weeks.

The bitter memories of those losses to Chelsea in the League Cup, Blackburn in the FA Cup and PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League have provided Wenger's side with the hunger to make amends.

There is a desire to Arsenal's play that is instantly recognisable in the most successful teams. Wenger has nutured in his players a belief that they can overcome any obstacle and so far they have passed every test put in front of them.

If Wenger can stop his players taking Steaua for granted, a win over Group H's least fancied team should follow. It may not persuade him to change his primary target just yet, but the time to consider a duel assault is not far away.

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