Arsenal to throw kitchen sink at Milan as Wenger plans four strikers
Arsène Wenger knows that he has "no choice" but to gamble in tonight's Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Milan at the Emirates. Facing a 4-0 deficit and with more forwards available than midfielders, the manager will have to overload his side with attacking potential.
But, with the Gunners needing to overturn such a large deficit, Wenger is comfortable with the changes imposed on him. Attack is his only option.
"I can take a risk, because I have no choice, basically," Wenger said yesterday, adding that a new system might be forced on him. "I'm tempted. But you know, at the moment, basically I have only two midfielders, that is [Alex] Song and [Tomas] Rosicky. That means we have to play with four strikers."
Even Rosicky is not certain to play, due to a groin problem. "I have to see if Rosicky is available or not," Wenger said. "If Rosicky is not available I will be in a very difficult situation, because I don't know what I can do then."
Robin van Persie, Gervinho, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are already likely to start, and if Rosicky joins Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun on the sidelines then Wenger may be forced to attack even more.
"I can play six strikers if I want," Wenger joked. "I have enough strikers: I have [Marouane] Chamakh, Park [Ju-yung], Van Persie, Gervinho, Walcott and Chamberlain."
With Arsenal's chances so slim – he puts them at 5 per cent – Wenger knows that there is no point in playing conservatively. "It is a risk," he acknowledged, "we have to gamble a bit and go forwards. We want to have a real go tomorrow, we want to make it possible. We will not accept going out of the Champions League. We'll give it our best shot."
Wenger was speaking with the relaxed air of a man released from expectation. He was not scared of failure, it was clear, only of failing to try.
"What is important is that we believe that we can be in this 5 per cent [zone]," he said. "That's what is at stake for us – to show that we have the quality to believe we can do it, even if it is only [a] 5 per cent [chance]. But let's make sure that we do not miss our chance because we did not believe in it."
A manager's task is to impose his optimism on the players, as Wenger knows. "I have a gut feeling they can do it," he said, "and my job until 7.45 tomorrow night is to convince them they can do it." He is seemingly making some progress: Kieran Gibbs may be an injury doubt for the game, but he was bullish yesterday regardless.
"We have to believe otherwise there is no point in being here," the young left-back said. "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 and get a good balance between attacking and defending."
It is that 5-2 defeat of Tottenham, especially, that must give Arsenal hope. That was the most dramatic of three consecutive league victories from behind; the others, 2-1 wins at Sunderland and Liverpool, both came in the final minutes. Should they do the impossible tonight, Wenger said it would "certainly" rank as his most amazing achievement at Arsenal.
"The best way is to ignore the first game and do what we did against Tottenham," Wenger said. "We were 2-0 down and we just kept going because we wanted to win the game. I have always said that the mentality in this team is very good."
It might even be a sign of Wenger's confidence in his players' resilience that he was so critical of them after the 4-0 defeat at San Siro in the first leg.
"You can understand, that's the first time we've lost 4-0 away from home in a Champions League tie and you can't really be happy," he said. "That was a massive disappointment. We [were] poor and we have to face the truth as well. I include myself in that, I don't disassociate myself either."
One encouragement for Arsenal is what happened in the quarter-finals eight years ago, when Milan took a 4-1 lead to Deportivo La Coruña and lost the second leg 4-0. Wenger, who saw that game, said Milan were complacent.
"Sometimes when you made a big score, the difficulty is always psychological," he said. "When you have made a big [victory margin] you think you just need to turn up and make sure you defend well. And the other team has nothing to lose." Like Arsenal tonight.
Job done: Four great European comebacks
QPR v Partizan Belgrade, 1984
Even a four-goal lead is not insurmountable. Alan Mullery's Queen's Park Rangers beat Partizan Belgrade 6-2 in a Uefa Cup second-round first-leg at Highbury, the plastic pitch at Loftus Road not being approved by Uefa. It should have been enough, but it wasn't. In the cauldron of Stadion FK Partizan, they were swamped and beaten 4-0. "It was an absolute catastrophe for QPR," Mullery remembered. "It wasn't long afterwards that I got the sack."
Real Madrid v Borussia Mönchengladbach, 1985
Another Uefa Cup match: Gladbach beat Madrid 5-1 at home but the force of Madrid in front of 95,000 in the Santiago Bernabeu was too much for them. Carlos Santillana and Jorge Valdano scored two each, Santillana completing the 4-0 rout with two minutes left.
Milan v DeportivoLa Coruña, 2004
Milan have blown a good lead before. Despite going 1-0 down early on, they tore through Deportivo to win a Champions League quarter-final first leg 4-1 at San Siro. The reigning European champions, starring Kaka, Andrei Shevchenko and all the rest, went to the Riazor full of confidence – but still went out 4-0. This game might just be on the mind of Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf this evening.
And Arsène Wenger's favourite European comeback... Monaco v Brugge, 1988
A 39-year-old Arsène Wenger took his Monaco side to Bruges for a European Cup second-round first leg but lost 1-0. The second leg, in the Stade Louis II, was quite different. His team, inspired by Glenn Hoddle, were rampant, beating Brugge 6-1 thanks to a Youssouf Fofana hat-trick and a double from José Touré. Mark Hateley also played, while a 22-year-old George Weah came off the bench.