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Macintosh: The Martinez master plan

Everton 54 minutes ago
Read
 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 13, 2006

'Crazy' Wenger feels no pressure now

Arsene Wenger accepts people may well have thought he was 'crazy' to believe Arsenal could conquer Europe this season.

The momentum has been with the Gunners during their superb march to the final of the Champions League in Paris and a final push in the Barclays Premiership which saw Wenger's emerging side snatch fourth place on the final day of the season.

Despite their slow start domestically, which saw Arsenal drop down towards mid-table, Wenger always felt this season could be when the north London club finally got their hands on the European Cup.

The French coach quipped: 'You thought I was crazy - and I still am!'

Wenger noted: 'We were out of the championship race very early, and maybe subconsciously we have chosen this competition.

'I felt that in the Champions League we had a good start, that concentration was fully there and that we had the potential as well.

'If you are in there every year then some will go better for you than others.'

The fact Arsenal do not now need to win the Champions League to ensure another chance of elite-level European football again next season will, Wenger feels, allow them to play their 'natural game' against Barcelona in Wednesday's final.

The Arsenal boss said: 'We will be able to play with less negative pressure.

'The biggest problem we have in football is `if we do not, then what happens?'

'I feel Middlesbrough played a bit like that [in the UEFA Cup final], with a hand-brake in the first half because they knew it was a game they could not miss.'

Wenger is not disputing his team's underdog status.

'Barcelona are the super-favourites, and we are the dangerous outsider,' he said.

'I feel that if we play our natural game we are a super-dangerous outsider.

'My job is just to get the team to play at their best, have a real go - and therefore I am convinced we would do that.'

Arsenal have set a new record of 10 consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League, while Barcelona have also shown they can be just as competent at the back as they can be dynamic going forwards.

Wenger believes the first goal will be key to the outcome of what may well be a cagey encounter at the Stade de France.

He said: 'Like many finals, so long as nobody scores the match will be quite locked because of the importance of the competition.

'Once one team scores, though, it will then certainly be an open and crazy game.'

The result could well play a vital part in the decision of captain Thierry Henry whether to pledge his long-term future to Arsenal, who are set to move to their new 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium over the summer.

Henry still has a year to run on his current contract and will make his intentions known before he departs for the World Cup in Germany.

Wenger, though, does not believe that in itself will have any bearing on the way Henry will approach the game itself.

'No matter what the guy does in July, when you go to a European Cup final you do not worry about that - you worry to bring the trophy back,' he said.

'I am convinced Thierry will stay, but he has not yet come out and say it.

'But on Wednesday night no one cares about that - you want to just go there and win it together.'

The Arsenal manager believes Henry deserves to be ranked as one of the best players on the planet.

'I would like Thierry Henry to be voted the best player in the world, because I feel he deserves it,' he said.

'Every year he has made a step forwards, has matured into both a team leader and an exceptional striker.

'If you look at the record of what he has done over the past five years, just with the numbers, it is exceptional.'