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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 23, 2006

Wenger 'annoyed and worried' by Prem fixtures

Arsene Wenger is a 'bit annoyed' at the prospect of playing catch-up so early in the Premiership season - but remains confident his Arsenal side will soon be challenging for the title.

The Gunners host Dinamo Zagreb in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier tonight while most of their other rivals will be in domestic action.

However, by the time Arsenal get around to fulfilling the original fixture at Wigan on December 13, Wenger is convinced his men will be competing at the business end of the Premiership again.

'That is a bit annoying and worrying,' said Wenger of having played a game less than the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, although Liverpool also face a re-arranged fixture.

'But I believe it is just down to quality and let us keep progressing.

'I have a strong belief in this team.

'Qualify on Wednesday and a big thing will be done for our season - then we can focus on the Championship.'

Arsenal kicked off life at the Emirates Stadium with a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, when Gilberto's late equaliser rescued a point on the opening day of the English top-flight campaign.

Wenger admits it will take some time for his players to adjust fully to their impressive new surroundings.

The Gunners boss said: 'We still do not feel completely at home yet, it will take a few games and you could sense that.

'The atmosphere is great, the noise in there is too and we want to speed the pitch up because it was a bit slow for us.'

Wenger declared: 'I believe we will be sharper and sharper from game to game, because at the moment we lack a bit of sharpness.

Teenager Theo Walcott came off the bench to make his Arsenal debut against Villa and could feature again tonight.

Walcott was a controversial selection by Sven-Goran Eriksson for England's World Cup squad, having never played in the top flight but still boarding the plane to Germany.

In extracts from his forthcoming book, Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has since claimed the 17-year-old had 'no right' to be in the squad.

Wenger believes such criticism - and there had been plenty - was unjustified.

He said: 'I spent a lot money for Theo Walcott because I just thought he was good enough to come to Arsenal.

'When you are good enough to go to Arsenal, you are good enough to play in the England team, because there are many players who play for England who would not play at Arsenal.'

Arsenal will be without goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, the German having picked up a slight knee problem.

Summer signing Tomas Rosicky and winger Jose Antonio Reyes, linked with Real Madrid, are unavailable (both groin), while captain Thierry Henry may start on the bench.

However, there will be no place in the squad again for wantaway defender Ashley Cole as his protracted move to Chelsea drags on.

Wenger said: 'The transfer possibility is not closed and if he plays against Zagreb, he might go to a team who plays in the Champions League and could not play for them any more.

'It can happen, but at the moment we are still in no-man's land.'