Arsène Wenger said he believes that Arsenal's crisis of confidence is over as he reflected on the club's qualification for the Champions League last 16, an achievement that he feels should be appreciated more fully in light of the tougher competition around Europe.
The manager said that he continued to consider the Premier League as the "most powerful" on the continent, largely because of the clubs' spending power and he believes that it remains the best, when all elements of the experience are taken into account. But he considers the Bundesliga to be on the rise while he also made reference to France's Ligue 1, where Paris Saint-Germain have altered the landscape with their lavish spending.
Arsenal trail their German fellow qualifiers Schalke by one point in Group B with one round of matches to go, while Borussia Dortmund's qualification as the Group D winners has helped to force Manchester City out of the competition. Wenger feels that Arsenal did not receive the credit that they deserved when they took four points from Borussia at the group stage last season. Bayern Munich, meanwhile, lead Group F.
"Maybe we have less room, less margin, than we had before, when it was just a question of when we would qualify," Wenger said. "Now German football has come up, Spanish football is there every year and some French clubs have come back like Paris Saint-Germain. It looks less obvious for us.
"I don't think we are getting worse. Man City has gone out but you can objectively say they were in a difficult group and they are still a good side as they are top of the Premier League. I'd still say England is the strongest because in England, if they want a player, they get him. As long as that happens, you will be the most powerful in Europe.
"I think England is the best because there's something more here. It's not only linked with what you see on the pitch but how you experience football. That's what I believe deeply and when I speak to the players, they say exactly the same."
Wenger's happiness at Arsenal's 13th successive qualification for the last 16 has reinforced his faith in the club's self-sustaining business model. He did not say it but Chelsea's Champions League toils, following their huge summer spend on players, have been greeted with glee at Arsenal. Vindication, though, will not arrive until further progress is made.
"It is a massive satisfaction because I am, so many times with my back to the wall, accused of not spending fortunes," Wenger said. "To show that we can do it, with the way we do it, with the club in a good financial situation and with the players coming from our youth development … I think it is important for the game as well. There are many different ways to be successful and I am very happy that our way is one of them."
Arsenal's 2-0 home win against Montpellier on Wednesday, which guaranteed their qualification, was marked by an absence of the nerves that have plagued them in recent weeks. The success followed the 5-2 derby win against Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium.
"I hope we are over our blip," Wenger said. "It is only coming with results. We were deeply shocked when we lost at Norwich, although since then, we have seen that they can beat other teams. Against Man United, they looked comfortable, they gained confidence. So I hope we will be back to our normal level of confidence. We had a difficult period. I hope now that we can show the consistency that is needed to come back [in the Premier League]."
Wenger said that Theo Walcott would miss Saturday's visit to Aston Villa because of his shoulder injury but he could return at Everton next Wednesday. André Santos is two weeks from fitness with an abdominal strain while Abou Diaby is three to four weeks away at best with a thigh injury. Tomas Rosicky has returned to training with the squad after a long-term tendon problem.