You can't question Arsenal's character - Wenger hits back at Deeney

Troy Deeney questioned Arsenal's "cojones" after Watford's weekend win but Arsene Wenger has defended his players' strength of character.

Arsene Wenger believes Troy Deeney's comments that his Arsenal team lack character are without justification.

Watford striker Deeney came off the bench and equalised with a penalty before Tom Cleverley secured a 2-1 comeback win for Marco Silva's side over the Gunners in the Premier League on Saturday.

Referee Neil Swarbrick's decision to award a spot-kick when Richarlison went down under a challenge from Hector Bellerin angered Wenger but Deeney mocked the Frenchman for making excuses.

"Well, I'm not going to be one to tell Mr Wenger about himself, but there's a reason that they lost and it wasn't because of one penalty," he told BT Sport

"I have to watch what I say, but it's [having] a bit of cojones, is what I'll say. Whenever I play against Arsenal, I'll go up and think 'let me whack the first one and see who wants it.'"

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Thursday's Europa League game against Red Star Belgrade, Wenger pointed at Arsenal's form before the Vicarage Road setback to defend his players.

"Everyone is entitled to talk," he said. "We don't listen to what people say – we try to analyse or own game.

"I love my players and I trust their strength of character to respond quickly. I know who my players really are.

"In the last seven games we had six wins and one draw. Comments are part of the modern game.

"You can't question our character. People try and put us down, they always have. Those comments aren't justified."

If the flaws Deeney identifies are a part of Arsenal's make-up, they will be placed under the microscope when 50,000 fans in Belgrade give Wenger's men a hostile reception.

"I don't think it will have a negative impact," Wenger said of the expected atmosphere.

"We are of course in a country with a tremendous football tradition so we expect a game with huge commitment from everybody. 

"The support of the team always has a positive impact. We can deal with that – we have long experience in the Champions League."

Wenger confirmed Mathieu Debuchy will make his first start for almost a year against Red Star, while Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere are also set to come in.

Teenage forward Josh Dasilva could make his full debut, while Wenger refused to rule out retaining regular number one Petr Cech in goal, having plumped for David Ospina in the opening wins in the competition over Cologne and BATE.

Red Star lie second in Group H on four points.