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By ESPN Staff

Wenger hails Shevchenko

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes Andriy Shevchenko has quietly gone about making Chelsea a better team this season - and Didier Drogba a better player.

The Ukrainian striker joined the Blues from AC Milan in a £30.8million deal this summer but by his own and manager Jose Mourinho's admission he has yet to fully justify that price tag or replicate the excellent form he showed in Italy.

Mourinho revealed today that he has nine 'untouchable' players in his star-studded squad but insisted the out-of-form Shevchenko was not one of them. But Gunners boss Wenger believes the 30-year-old deserves much more credit for Chelsea's more 'offensive' approach and the goals tally of strike partner Drogba, who has hit 14 goals already this term.

'If Drogba does well it is certainly down to Shevchenko as well,' Wenger said.

'Drogba was always a great player but even more since he played with Shevchenko. He has more support, more deflections. He gets more deflected balls and someone makes the runs for him and he takes advantage of that.

'A second presence sometimes diverts (defenders' attention) - mentally and physically. That gives (Drogba) more confidence and more chance and as well maybe Chelsea play in a more offensive style than they used before.

'When you have the kind of success that they have had, the demands are that people want to see an enjoyable game as well, and they have gone the right way because the responsibility of the teams who dominate is to play in an offensive way, and they have done that well this season.'

Wenger has been a fan of Shevchenko since he lined up for Dynamo Kiev against the Gunners in the Champions League over eight years ago, and insists age is not the reason behind Shevchenko's slow start.

'Old or young it takes six months to completely adapt to the pace of the league,' Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

'Sometimes it is that your game is not completely as good, sometimes you struggle with injuries.

'We had all kinds of problems here and I feel that five or six months is needed.

'I personally rate Shevchenko highly from the time he played with Dynamo Kiev against us. I feel as well he is a really keen player and sometimes that kind of work is not rated enough.'

Wenger is 'reasonably optimistic' that Johan Djourou will be able to line up in central defence provided he overcomes a hamstring problem.

'One of the keys for success on Sunday will be how well the centre-backs do,' Wenger added.

'That's why we have to make sure the boys we play at the back are 100% fit. With Drogba and Shevchenko you have to be really up for it and physically ready, if not you have no chance.'