Fixture crunch will not dictate a weakened side, says Wenger

PARIS • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said he will field a strong side for today's Europa League visit to Bate Borisov, despite a 4,000km round trip in the middle of a spell of three games in seven days.

The Frenchman hinted grudgingly that he would not make wholesale changes despite an English Premier League tie at home to Brighton on Sunday, after the north London football club's record signing Alexandre Lacazette scored twice in a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Monday.

"We have to accept it, but I will go with a team of senior players, and certainly a young bench," said Wenger, whose side came from behind to beat Cologne 3-1 in their Europa League opener.

"We play Monday night, we play in Borisov on Thursday, and we play Sunday morning.

"For the team selection, it has an impact."

Belarusian champions Borisov, who are unbeaten in their previous seven European home games and drew 1-1 at Red Star Belgrade in their first match, will likely have to face the likes of Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez.

Wenger, however, confessed that he is unsure about Mesut Ozil's fitness, after the German playmaker's recent return from injury.

The 28-year-old midfielder came back as a substitute on Monday after being out for a few weeks with a minor knee issue.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Wenger said about Ozil: "He just came back from a knee problem, and he hasn't practised a lot in the last two weeks.

"I didn't know really how much he has lost on the fitness front."

It is unclear whether Ozil will return to the starting line-up today.

Wenger is likely to rotate his squad heavily, with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming in.

Bate are currently third in the Belarusian Premier League, but just two points behind leaders FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

The hosts have won 16 of their 21 league games and will have a chance of causing a shock against the Gunners.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Fixture crunch will not dictate a weakened side, says Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe