Wenger: Arsenal must believe
Manager Arsene Wenger called on his Arsenal team to believe they can rewrite the record books and overturn AC Milan's 4-0 lead to qualify for the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League tomorrow night.
The Gunners boss was left crestfallen in the San Siro a fortnight ago, having witnessed his side taken apart by the Rossoneri, as a stunning opener from Kevin-Prince Boateng was followed by a brace by Robinho before a late penalty by Zlatan Ibrahimovic effectively ended the tie as a contest.
After what he described as a "shocking performance," Wenger felt little genuine hope of progress. However, two morale-boosting victories over Tottenham and then Liverpool to kick-start their English Premier League campaign, the Arsenal manager will take only positive thoughts into tomorrow night's European showdown.
"I said I don't live in a dream world - that means I know we have not created an easy situation, but when you are a top-level competitor, even if statistically we have a 5 per cent chance, what is important is that we believe that we can be in this 5 per cent chance," Wenger said.
"That is what is at stake for us - to show that we have the quality to believe we can do it, even if it is only 5 per cent," he added. "Let us make sure that we do not miss our chance because we did not believe in it."
Only three clubs have recovered from such a first-leg deficit in the history of European competitions, but those were back in the mid-1980s. Milan, though, somehow managed to go out to Deportivo La Coruna in the 2003/04 quarter-finals having won 4-1 at home, losing the second leg in Spain 4-0.
Arsenal are short of options in midfield, with Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky facing a late fitness test on a groin problem and Mikel Arteta needing to rest for a week after suffering a blow to the head in a collision with Jordan Henderson during Saturday's 2-1 Premier League win at Anfield.
Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri knows his side cannot afford any thoughts of complacency. "We know how English teams play, so it's going to be important to have the right approach to the game, with great attention and a great pace because I'm sure they'll try to raise the pace tomorrow and try to find an early goal," he said.
"I would insult the team if I would say I had seen some drop in focus in the past," he went on. "When you play the Champions League last 16 against Arsenal in London, regardless of what happened in the first leg, I would never expect my team would feel more relaxed tomorrow.
"In football, anything can happen," the coach went on. "I think tomorrow we need to step on the pitch fired up for 90 minutes without thinking what we did in the first leg."
On the past failings of Milan to hold onto leads - including a famous second-half capitulation when leading 3-0 against Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final, Allegri said: "Those negative happenings must help us to take the right approach.
"We must be conscious that we are going to face a team with great qualities and a team which will try to change the course of the tie right from the beginning," he said. "I also know the English teams will never surrender."