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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 15, 2009

Young Gunners' progress pleases Wenger

Arsene Wenger hailed the progress of his young Arsenal team after they booked a place in the Champions League semi-finals against Manchester United with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Villarreal.

"We have confidence and that is down to the slow progress we have accumulated from game to game in the Premier League,'' said Wenger, his side unbeaten in some 18 domestic championship matches since late November and now back in the top four.

"Confidence transfers from one competition to the other that's why we cannot choose any competition and just want to play well in every single competition.''

Wenger added: "We used our passing well and gave them a lot of problems. We were explosive on counter attack.''

The Arsenal manager is relishing the prospect of locking horns with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson once again, and believes the tie will come down to the form of the day - with the Red Devils not currently the all-conquering team of earlier in the campaign.

Wenger said: "It is a cup competition of 180 minutes, and what is important is the form on the day.

"Both teams have the same programme - a game in hand to play in the league, a cup semi-final, so how much we are physically okay might have an impact.

"That's one of the great things about these type of games - they are not predictable.

"You can say that Manchester United are an attacking team so it should be a good game but sometimes, you can cancel each other out.

"It is a test, but it is a challenge you relish and we are excited about that. I would not like speculate on any weakness of Man United. They will be strong on the day, but it should encourage us to be at our best.

"We have games before Man United, so let's try and continue our run.

"Now, the most important thing is Chelsea. We focus on the short-term target.''

Wenger came in for some criticism earlier in the campaign, as his young side struggled for consistency. However, the French coach believes all of the squad, led by fit-again captain Cesc Fabregas, have grown in stature.

"I never doubted, but when you don't win the game you wonder if you are right,'' said Wenger.

"I was always convinced, but I was more worried about the confidence and the belief of a very young side.

"It is mentally very difficult when they do not win the games because its a bit more fragile than guys who have a big history behind them and have already gone through difficult periods.

"I was more worried about the mental side about what happened at the start of the season, but they have dealt with that very well. This group is mentally strong.''

Wenger added: "We have a team with a great future, we are in a strong situation as a club, and are in a healthy financial situation without any external resources, and not many teams can say that.''

Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini accepted his side, who finished the game with 10 men following a second yellow card for Sebastian Eguren had been well beaten.

"In the end, Arsenal were better than us,'' he said.

"We were up against a superior team, who had already eliminated us before the red card.''

Pellegrini feels the clash between Arsenal and United is going to be a tight affair.

"It is going to be very difficult against Manchester United. It will be a 50/50 tie and is very tough to predict a winner,'' he said.

"When you are in the semi-finals, anything can happen.''

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is looking forward to a glamour semi-final against Manchester United after helping see off at the Emirates Stadium.

Fabregas told Sky Sports 3: "What was really important was that we'd said we wanted to try to score early, keep the pressure on and we did that well.

"At the end 3-0 is quite a fair result, we could have scored a few more but let's not be greedy.

"(Facing Manchester United) is unbelievable for us. What can you say? To be in the semi-final of the Champions League against maybe the best team in Europe, and the world, we would take it for sure.''

Wenger praised Walcott's exquisite finish, after watching the England winger transfer his form on the training ground to crucial matches.

"We know he can finish but now he is transferring that to the games. His level of confidence has gone up,'' Wenger said.

"In training he was always a good finisher but now he is becoming a great finisher in games too.''

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