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Arsenal 15:00 Stoke

Wenger backs Pires to fuel reaction

By Peter O`Rourke.   Last Updated: 22/10/02 7:19am

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ROBERT PIRES is set to return for Arsenal in Tuesday's Champions League tie against Auxerre, with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger promising a "strong reaction" from his side after seeing them lose their unbeaten record at Everton last weekend.

Pires has been out of action for seven months with a serious cruciate knee ligament injury, but Wenger feels his return will be a lift to his "shocked, hurt and angry" side.

The Gunners are determined to bounce back in style after Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Everton ended their record 30-game unbeaten run in The Premiership.

"I think you will be surprised by my team's reaction," said Wenger. "They will react strongly on Tuesday.

"It was disappointing to lose the game on Saturday but I look back and think that we didn't lose a game for seven-and-a-half months, and that deserves to be recognised and rewarded - I am proud of my team.

"I think it can strengthen our desire to bounce back and be even stronger. Our foot has slipped off the accelerator but we have not come to a full stop. It is not like a car hitting a tree at 160 mph.

"It was a big disappointment and the players are shocked, hurt and angry, but the main concern is that we are winning trophies at the end of the season, and I still firmly believe we can go all the way in this competition.

"We want to show we are the strongest team in the Premier League and we want to do well in the Champions League."

Wenger is delighted to have French winger Pires back and available again after his injury nightmare.

"Robert Pires is the oil in our engine," said Wenger. "We are so much more fluent when he is on the pitch.

"He brings vision, a great workrate and a special passing ability to find anyone on the pitch.

"He can run with the ball and he is very generous. He likes to please his team-mates with his passes.

"Robert had surgery on April 25 and the surgeon told us he could play again after six months.

"I wouldn't take any risk. I suffered the same injury as a player and the first steps back are the most apprehensive. You need to get that first hefty tackle out of the way. But he has come through that in training and in last week's reserve game."

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