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By ESPN Staff

Wenger admits luck on dubious Eduardo penalty

Arsene Wenger admitted Arsenal had been somewhat fortunate to see Eduardo win a penalty which set them on the way to a comfortable 3-1 victory over Celtic and into the group stages of the Champions League.

With his team leading 2-0 from the first leg in Glasgow, the opening goal was always going to be crucial.

It came just before the half-hour when Eduardo went down following what looked minimal contact at best from Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc after he skipped into the left side of the box.

It was enough to convince Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez and Eduardo was certainly not worried by chants of "cheat'' from the massed ranks of green behind the goal.

The Croatia striker, set to face England in next month's crucial World Cup qualifier at Wembley, stepped up to send Boruc the wrong way and all but kill off the tie.

"From outside I must say it looked a penalty, but having seen it again on television, it doesn't look to be a penalty,'' the Arsenal manager said. "But I must still say that we were likely always to score the first goal because Eduardo had a great chance before the penalty and we always looked in control of the game.

"I believe really that it was not a penalty but I am also not sure that the keeper didn't touch him with his right knee, having seen it again. I do not want a penalty which is not a penalty, but I do not go as far to say Eduardo dived.

"He went down, for what reason I do not know. But I do not think he would have complained if the penalty was not given. Is it acceptable? I never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty but sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the keeper. Sometimes they dive.

"We got a penalty [against us] two years ago in the quarter-final of the Champions League [at Liverpool] that made the difference when [Ryan] Babel dived, nobody ever apologised to us, it was a blatant dive and nobody spoke about it.''

Wenger felt Celtic had put up a brave challenge.

He said: "I believe that Celtic in the two games were well organised, did show some great mental qualities, they never gave up at any moment, and for me, they are a good side. Over the two games they were a bit unlucky because in the first game, the free-kick deflected, they were always one behind the score and when there is a technical difference between the two sides, it makes it even harder.''

Arsenal now head to Manchester United on Saturday in confident mood after maintaining their 100% start to the new campaign.

However, midfielder Aaron Ramsey picked up a knee injury and may not feature, while Wenger feels captain Cesc Fabregas, out with a hamstring problem, may be "short'' for the weekend.

"We are now in the top, top league in Europe, with all the big names,'' he said. "Our team tonight was an average age of 23.9 years. That means if we can get out of the group stage, then in six months we can be even stronger.

"That is what we want to focus on, to continue to improve our team play, the speed of our game and show that we have made big improvements come Saturday at 5:15. I am happy to go to Old Trafford because it is the first big, big test.

"You want always to have a high level of confidence when you go to Old Trafford, we have that at the moment. For us it is most important to recover physically because Manchester United did not play in the League Cup tonight.''

Gracious Celtic manager Tony Mowbray refused to lament Eduardo.

Mowbray said: "I have not seen a re-run of it, so I cannot sit here and complain about it. The referee has given it, but if the TV pictures show it should not have been given, then so be it.

"All the boys thought there was no contact, but we have to accept it and move on. However, you cannot deny that over the two legs, Arsenal had more quality and deserved to go through.''

The Celtic boss continued: "The first goal was always going to be crucial. If we had got it, you would have had a more interesting spectacle. The fact that Arsenal scored it allows their real high quality players to relax a bit more and play at their own pace.

"When you try and play high up against such quality players, you are asking for trouble. That is the way it panned out - but I could not question the desire and effort of my team.''

Defender Glenn Loovens, however, maintained it was not a spot-kick. "I was close enough to get a good view on it, its disappointing when you concede a goal like that,'' he said. "You can see from the reaction of the boys, they were close to it. If it stays 0-0 you are in the game, but now we are 1-0 down and the game is over. The referee made the decision and he is not going to change it.''

Loovens added: "It is very disappointing, but that is football. "It is sad it happened to us today, and I do not think it is really fair, but it helped his team take the lead. There is a ref and a linesman to see those kind of things.''

Despite the disappointment of tonight's defeat, Mowbray insisted Celtic would be able to hold their own against all but the leading sides of the English top flight.

He said: "I would suggest there are only four teams in the English Premier League of the quality of Arsenal. I do not think the gulf between our football club and the rest of the Premier League would be there - maybe we will get the chance to show that in the Europa League.

"I genuinely believe Arsenal are a team who can win this competition, but at the moment Celtic are not in a position to compete with the English sides who make the semi-finals of this tournament year in and year out.''

Mowbray added: "You have to take the positives out of the way we played in these two matches. Hopefully we will be more than a match for whomever we draw now and I expect us to compete very well in the Europa League.''

Mowbray, meanwhile, dismissed suggestions captain Stephen McManus was set to join Coca-Cola Championship side Ipswich, managed by former Celtic player Roy Keane. "I have no problem with people being interested in our players, but what I would suggest, from my understanding is Stephen McManus would have no interest in going to Ipswich Town.

"He is captain of our club and wants to get himself back into our team. Real Madrid may be interested in one of our players, but that does not mean he is going. I would suggest that is a non-starter.''

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