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Wenger happy to take Champions League gamble

Arsenal will take a major gamble on their Champions' League ambitions when they field an under-strength line-up for Wednesday's match against Steaua Bucharest.

sports Updated: Dec 11, 2007 11:52 IST

Arsene Wenger is ready to put Arsenal's Champions League ambitions at risk by playing an under-strength team in Wednesday's match against Steaua Bucharest.

The Gunners are already through to the knockout stages but need to better Sevilla's result at Slavia Prague in the final round of Group H matches if they are to finish in first place.

Wenger's side would have an easier time in the second round if they top the group because the winners are drawn against one of the eight runners-up, with the decisive second leg at home.

It could be a substantial advantage as the second placed teams are likely to face Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid or Inter Milan, while the less daunting likes of Celtic, Rangers, Fenerbahce, Rosenborg or Olympiakos lie in wait for the clubs in pole position.

But Wenger hinted he will take his chances with the draw because he would rather rest players ahead of Sunday's crucial Premier League match against Chelsea.

The French coach, who is already without Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and Robin van Persie, looks set to leave out Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Tomas Rosicky and Bacary Sagna on Wednesday.

He said: "I feel for us maybe it is not necessarily a disadvantage to play the big clubs. At least the big clubs will play as well.

"Last year, we lost against Eindhoven, who refused to play in the first leg. Then, in the second game, they just waited for one counter-attack. We struggled more in that game than we had done the season before against Real Madrid.

"Maybe when you play against Real Madrid or Barcelona, you say 'what a hell of a task' but then you face a different problem because they will come out and play.

"If we do finish second in the group, nobody would be especially keen to play against us. But having said that I still want to finish top."

After a sparkling start to the season, Arsenal have hit their first sticky patch. The Premier League leaders have won only one of their last four matches and suffered a first league defeat at Middlesbrough on Sunday.

The injuries to Fabregas and Hleb have played a major role in Arsenal's slump. Both midfielders will be out for at least another week and Wenger concedes their creativity has been sorely missed.

"At the moment we miss players in the same area. That handicaps a little bit our creative potential," he said.

"But I always have confidence in the players who play. When you go into a season you know you will miss some players at some stage."

Flamini may be fit for the Chelsea game and Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy is hoping they can get back on track before the rest of the walking wounded return.

"We have a strong squad and we are first and were playing well without five star players," he said. "It was a bit unlucky to have so many out. But we know with all these games we are going to get some injured players so we have to be focused now.

"When you have players like Cesc, Robin, Alex and Mathieu in the side it is very different. We have the quality without those players so it's not an excuse. But of course we look forward to them coming back because with them we are stronger."

Steaua are out of contention after taking only one point from their first five matches and cannot even qualify for the UEFA Cup.

They gave Arsenal a harder than expected contest before losing 1-0 in October but that was one of the few positives of a mediocre season.

Marius Lacatus's side are 11 points behind Romanian league leaders Cluj and are already on their third manager this year. They will travel to London more in hope than expectation of a shock victory.