- Premier League
Wenger tells Arsenal to stand up and be counted
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has urged his side to defy their critics and rise to the challenge as they prepare for a hat-trick of fixtures at Emirates Stadium that will define their season.
An FA Cup fifth round tie against Blackburn on Saturday will be a prelude to the enticing Champions League clash with Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich at the same venue on Tuesday, with Aston Villa's trip to north London in the Premier League next weekend rounding off a pivotal week for Wenger's side.
It could be that Wenger is answering more awkward questions about his own future or alternatively revelling in the glory of what could be his latest revival as Arsenal manager a week from now, with the Frenchman conceding the moment of truth has arrived for his latest Gunners ensemble.
"Of course these next games will define our season, that is always the case in late February and March when you have big games coming one after the next," Wenger said. "I believe we are a better team today than we were in October and November, but I can talk and talk. What we need to do is show it on the football pitch.
"I am pleased we are playing a cup game before Bayern because sometimes your mind can be on the game on Tuesday if you play a regular game in the championship, so this is good for us.
"It is important for us to focus on both the FA Cup and the Champions League equally as we treat both competition with equal importance."
Three wins in the next seven days could transform Arsenal's season and Wenger is urging his players to gain inspiration from the charges of 2006, who defied the odds to record a famous win against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu that ignited a run to the Champions League Final in Paris.
"After this cup tie (against Blackburn), we can think about the Champions League," he added. "I am convinced we have a real chance against Bayern and we have to try and take it, but we will need to be at our best.
"When we went to Real Madrid a few years ago they had Zidane, Beckham, Raul, Guti. We were fourth or fifth in the league and no one said we had a chance, but we beat them over there in Madrid. So it's just down to us to believe we can do it."
Wenger will make a late decision on whether to play Jack Wilshere in Saturday's FA Cup clash, as he may be tempted to hold back the 21-year-old for the Bayern Munich showdown after he picked up a knock in last weekend's win at Sunderland.