Wenger satisfied as Arsenal outclass Boro
Arsene Wenger reflected on the ''best preparation'' for Arsenal's Champions League clash with Manchester United after they saw off the challenge of relegation-threatened Middlesbrough 2-0 at Emirates Stadium with a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas.
The Gunners are now all but secure in fourth place following a run of 20 league matches without defeat.
With leading scorer Robin van Persie still sidelined by a groin problem, and Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin cup-tied in Europe, the double salvo by Fabregas - subject to a misconduct charge by the Football Association in the fall-out from the FA Cup tie against Hull - and the return to fitness of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia could not have come at a better time.
With such a vital Champions League tie only some 72 hours away, Wenger would have been forgiven if he had rested a couple of his key men today in front of the watchful eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson in the Emirates crowd.
However, Arsenal named a strong starting XI and remained positive from the outset, with victory secured by well-taken goals from their captain in each half.
''The first target was to win the game, and that is the best preparation,'' Wenger said.
''At 2-0, you could see maybe the [thought of the] Champions League started a little bit to resurface or surface, but it was a very good game against a Middlesbrough team who played in a very positive way.
''We dominated it, we made some brilliant passing and some brilliant combinations - especially the first goal, I believe was absolutely outstanding.
''You could see the team enjoys the way we play and loves the game.'' Wenger added: ''It is better today to win than lose and rest players.
''It [fourth place] is now not completely definite, but it is 10 points with four games to go. We can focus now on catching Chelsea, because we still have to play them at home.''
Fabregas' double was his first goals since the start of October.
The Arsenal captain feels today's performance can act as a confidence boost ahead of the trip to Old Trafford.
''It keeps going the run we have got in the league and two days before the Manchester United game, which is probably our most important one of the season, it's good for the confidence,'' Fabregas said.
Wenger has been impressed by the performances of his captain since he returned from three months out with a serious knee injury which required surgery.
''He gets sharper and sharper from game to game,'' the Arsenal manager said. ''He was out for three months you know, you do not come back straight away at your best. Now he gets better in every game.''
Former United defender Mikael Silvestre was replaced at half-time and is now only 50/50 for the clash with his old club because of a back spasm.
Wenger feels Ferguson will not have learnt anything fresh from watching Monday's game.
''He knows us and he will think it will be an exciting game between two teams who like to play and know each other well,'' said the Arsenal manager.
Wenger insisted: ''If you go to Old Trafford without belief, you make it very difficult at the start for you.
''We will go there with belief and to enjoy it, and also will be faithful to the game we play and will go there like we do everywhere in Europe to try to score and win the game.
''What is important on Wednesday night is that we are at our best - when we are our best we can beat everybody, so let's focus on us to be at our best and not to speculate on any weakness of Manchester United because they have experience.
''If we play at our best, we have a good chance and can do it.''
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate accepted his side failed to make the most of the few chances they created.
Former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere had the best opening at the start of the second half, but Almunia was quick off his line to make a crucial block.
Boro remain three points from safety, and Southgate said: ''We did okay, but okay is not enough when you come to somewhere like this.
''To get the result, if you get a half-chance you have got to take it.
''You have got to be outstanding because they are a top quality team, but I cannot fault my players' commitment.''
However, Southgate maintained: ''We know everybody else is looking over their shoulder, so we have got to win.
''We are probably underdogs for the four matches we have coming up, but we are still in there fighting.''