Wenger urges Gunners to show belief
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 Champions League on Tuesday 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 former Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng was followed by a brace by ex-Manchester City striker 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, morale-boosting victories over Tottenham and then Liverpool to kickstart their Premier League campaign, the Arsenal manager will take only positive thoughts into Tuesday 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% chance, what is important is that we believe that we can be in this 5% 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%.
"Let us make sure that we do not miss out 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.
However, the Gunners still have plenty of firepower in attack, with the likes of Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all ready to support 31-goal skipper Robin van Persie.
Blackburn were swept aside 7-1 at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, while arch-rivals Tottenham were beaten 5-2 in a game in which the Gunners had trailed 2-0 inside 34 minutes.
Arsenal’s record Champions League home win came in the 2007/2008 group stages when Slavia Prague were thrashed 7-0, while three seasons ago Porto were beaten 5-0 in the second leg of the knockout stages, having won the first leg 2-1.
Wenger said: "I know my players well, I know they have been hurt by the first result, and I know they have their pride. They will come out tomorrow and give a performance.
"We lost 4-0 at Milan, but they had five shots on target and we had 55% possession there and we didn’t play well at all. If they can score four we can as well, why not?
"It is important that we believe we can do it.
"Your belief is stronger when your recent results have been good."
Wenger added: "Even if they should score, we have to ignore it and continue going.
"That is a risk, we have to gamble a bit and go forwards, opening ourselves up a bit, but we will build the squad who will have a good drive going forwards, then everybody has to contribute when you do not have the ball to keep a clean sheet."
Full-back Kieran Gibbs called for his team-mates to deliver the necessary response.
"The whole team was quite hurt by the first leg. Tomorrow gives us a great opportunity to get a sense of pride back," said the 22-year-old England international.
"We have shown fantastic mentality to come back in the last couple of games and have created a momentum now.
"We have to believe otherwise there is no point in being here.
"If they can beat us 4-0 then why can’t we do the same? In our last home game, we scored five goals.
"We have to create a faultless performance."