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Wenger: Premier League is still strong

LONDON -- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has insisted the Premier League is not suffering from a slide in standards despite all four English teams failing to record victories in the first legs of their Champions League last-16 ties.

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After Manchester City lost 2-0 to Barcelona and Arsenal were beaten by the same scoreline by Bayern Munich last week, Manchester United went down to a surprise 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos on Tuesday before Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw with Galatasaray on Wednesday.

Premier League clubs had featured in all but one of the previous eight Champions League finals up to Chelsea’s triumph in 2012, but last season no English side reached the quarterfinals and this month’s results have raised further questions about their ability to compete at the top level.

However, Wenger said at his prematch news conference at Arsenal’s London Colney training base that it would be premature to draw conclusions from the first-leg clashes.

“First of all, you have to remember all four teams came out of the group stage,” he said. “That proves that the level is there. You cannot judge a general trend on one game.

“Man City played with 10 men, Arsenal played with 10 men. City played against Barcelona, Arsenal played against Bayern Munich, the European champion. The other two teams are still in position, Chelsea and United, where they can turn the result around. Let’s wait for the second game before we discuss a trend. It is one game and very different opponents.”

He added: “Honestly, the Premier League is the most difficult in the world. The level is good from first to 20th. This is the only league that has this. There are 10 other teams in Europe who can beat the Premier League [teams]. This is what we have seen.”

Meanwhile, Wenger echoed Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho’s claim that Liverpool are emerging as a major threat to win this season’s Premier League title.

Brendan Rodgers’ side did not qualify for Europe this season and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal earlier this month, allowing them to focus their efforts solely on the league.

Wenger said: “Liverpool is in the race and they have an advantage because it’s the only competition they play. Overall, it will be very tight -- I hope until the end, because that means it will be close until the end and, if you are consistent, you will have a good chance to win it.”


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