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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admits underdog status but refuses to laud Pep Guardiola ahead of Carabao Cup final

PUBLISHED: 10:14 24 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:28 24 February 2018

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has issued an ultimatum to his playing staff. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has issued an ultimatum to his playing staff. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was in spiky form at his club’s training ground this week ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

The showpiece trophy is the only domestic silverware he has yet to win during his 21 year tenure with the Gunners but the Frenchman was still smarting from his side’s poor performance during their 2-1 defeat against the Swedes of FK Ostersunds at the Emirates.

Perhaps that was the reason he refused to credit City boss Guardiola with ‘raising the bar’ after a perfectly acceptable question angled at eliciting a possible response about successful coaching methods.

However, Wenger testily responded by saying: “No. You look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe.

“You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs. We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero scores his side's second goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester in NovemberManchester City's Sergio Aguero scores his side's second goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester in November

While it was understandable Wenger did not want to laud his rival ahead of Sunday’s big game his answer was meanspirited in the extreme given the undoubted fact that wherever Guardiola has managed he has improved standards – through a commitment to a high tempo game that has left more cautious managers such as Jose Mourinho floundering in its wake.

A tactical movement which, dare it be said, has also left the free-flowing improvisational attacking play of Wenger’s Arsenal behind too.

And that’s without mentioning Wenger’s failure to solidify the backline, whether it be with a three or a four. Or to fully utilise the defensive nous of his number two Steve Bould.

What the Arsenal boss did concede was that his team were underdogs at Wembley. He had to given City’s all conquering displays in England and the continent this term, blips at Wigan excepted.

Manchester City's Yaya Toure shows his dejection during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi Final match at Wembley Stadium, London as Arsenal beat City to reach the finalManchester City's Yaya Toure shows his dejection during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi Final match at Wembley Stadium, London as Arsenal beat City to reach the final

He said: “We have to raise our level to create the surprise,” he said.

“City are dominating the league in the heads of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs now than in the semi-final [last season],” he said.

The 2-1 victory over the Etihad outfit in the last four of the FA Cup at Wembley last April was one of the highlights of last season for the team and fans alike.

Wembley has seen Arsenal raise their game on a number of times recently. In their previous nine trips for FA Cup semi-finals, finals and Community Shields, the Gunners have triumphed in all nine prompting Wenger to add: “The history and the fact we have done it before tells us: ‘Why not do it again?’”.

He didn’t have to say it but he did, adding: “Trophies are very difficult to win. Nobody has won the FA Cup more than us.

“Look at the big clubs – for example, Liverpool. How many times have they won the FA Cup in their whole history? Seven.”

If Wenger can add his first League Cup trophy on Sunday to his haul of silverware over the past two decades perhaps he will be more charitable about the iconic Guardiola when they meet at the Emirates in the Premier League on Thursday.

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