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English Premiership

Wenger comes out fighting ahead of Reading clash

LONDON, England December 17 – Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has spent the past few days launching attacks of his own, but on Monday night he will discover if his players can do the same on the pitch at Reading.

The trip to rock-bottom Reading is Arsenal’s first fixture since they were beaten in a League Cup quarter-final penalty shoot-out by Bradford City of League Two last Tuesday.

That unleashed an avalanche of criticism towards the Emirates Stadium, with much of it directed at Wenger, who has not led Arsenal to a major trophy in seven seasons.

Wenger embarked on a vigorous defence of his own position, claiming he was still “determined” and “hungry” to bring success to the club and silence the critics who feel his 16-year reign should be brought to an end.

“My job is to be determined and give importance to what is important,” he said. “What is important is I love football, I love this club and I give my best for this club. I am very determined and very hungry.

“Our season will not be judged on how well we do in the League Cup but how well we do in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup.”

Wenger also defended his squad, which is currently only the eighth best in the Premier League.

The Frenchman joked he would sign Lionel Messi of Barcelona next month to surprise his critics but made it clear he believed his players were good enough to prove the doubters wrong.

“We have not kicked on, that’s true. But we have rebuilt a team this year and we’ll see where we finish,” he said.

“At the moment, we have qualified for the Champions League knock-out stages for 13 years on the trot. When I listen to you (in the media), it must be a mistake there – ‘Why is this team in this spot?’ It sounds like we should be in the Championship.

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“At the moment, you have to take a little bit of distance before making a definite judgement on what we are capable of doing.

“At the moment we are not happy with what we have produced. But we will turn it around before the end of the season.”

Arsenal have already played at the Madejski Stadium this season, in the League Cup.

In that game they found themselves 4-0 down before launching an astonishing comeback that saw them go through 7-5 in extra time.

Reading are managed by a former Arsenal player, although Brian McDermott was a Gunner long before Wenger came to north London.

McDermott led the Royals to the top of the Championship last season but their return to the top flight has brought them just nine points so far.

McDermott made it clear he felt himself far more likely to be forced out of his job than Wenger.

“I’m favourite to go first, we all know that,” he said. “Sixteen games ago I’d have been 50-1, now I’m 7-4. That’s how it works in football and I completely understand because it’s a results-driven business.”

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