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Expectation is rising as Arsene Wenger goes for glory


Pointing the way: Arsene Wenger gives instructions to Mesut Ozil during Arsenal’s training session ahead of facing Monaco

Pointing the way: Arsene Wenger gives instructions to Mesut Ozil during Arsenal’s training session ahead of facing Monaco

AFP/Getty Images

Pointing the way: Arsene Wenger gives instructions to Mesut Ozil during Arsenal’s training session ahead of facing Monaco

Arsene Wenger has said that his Arsenal team are approaching the knockout stages of Champions League "with more belief" than in recent years.

Tonight, they take on his former side Monaco in the last 16 first leg tie at the Emirates, and after taking on Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munich on two occasions at this stage in recent years, it is understandable that Wenger is feeling more confident.

Despite that, the Frenchman - who was in charge at Monaco for seven years from 1987 to '94 - is taking nothing for granted.

"You never know. It is always a question of circumstances and potential," Wenger said.

"Barca or Bayern would have been favourites, but we have to deal with what we get. We didn't do that very well over the last four years, so this is an opportunity to do better."

Arsenal have become part of the furniture in the Champion's League knockout stages.

Unusually for Arsenal, at this stage of the season, they appear to be a team in the insurgency after a difficult start, rather than riding high, nervously waiting for the crash, but to go one better than their best in the competition, that defeat in the final in Paris in 2006, is, Wenger admits, harder than ever.

"Now it is more difficult than 10 or 15 years ago because there are more candidates," he said.

"Certainly there are more in England, but it is a cup competition. It's a 180-minutes game, not a 90-minutes game, but it is still cup.

"That means belief, commitment and being in a good period (of form) when you play the game.

"We feel as a team we are on the way up and we can use the Champions League to confirm that."

Wenger insists there can be no room for sentiment or nostalgia as he looks to get past former club.

Wenger enjoyed a hugely succesful spell in the Principality when taking his first steps into what would become an illustrious coaching career, winning the Ligue 1 title in 1987-88 as well as the 1991 Coupe de France.

Under his guidance, Monaco went on to reach the European Cup Winners' Cup final, losing to Werder Bremen, and also the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1994, all of which came against the backdrop of the Marseille match-fixing scandal.

Having turned down the Bayern Munich job to remain loyal to Monaco, Wenger was eventually sacked after a poor start to the following season and would go on to rebuild his career at Nagoya Grampus in Japan before the now infamous 'Arsene Who?' greeted the arrival of the unheralded French coach at Highbury some 18 years ago.

Wenger, though, maintains his only focus now is to deliver the required result for Arsenal, as they look to secure a place in the last eight of Europe's elite for first time since 2010, and not reflect on what might have been.

"I am professional, I am competitive and as much as I respect Monaco I am focused on doing my job well," said Wenger, who expects to rest Jack Wilshere as the midfielder continues his recovery from ankle surgery.

"I give my best to win the game, respect for your opponents means you give your best - if I play against my brother, it is the same, that is part of our job."

Wenger added: "I have never stopped working, so I have never had the time to reflect, but if I look at the history of my life these are the two (clubs) who have been crazy enough to let me work.

"They both had to be brave because it wasn't obvious for Monaco to take me on or for Arsenal to employ me. I have a lot of respect for that."

Wenger, though, will always have a sense of unease about the match-fixing scandal by Marseille owner Bernard Tapie, which arguably prevented Monaco from, domestically at least, achieving their true potential during his time at the Stade Louis II.

"I needed to leave France. It was the desire to get away, but also the job (in Japan) was a fantastic opportunity to experience other cultures and to have different human experiences and that is one of the reasons I am in the job as well," he said.

"I have always respect my contracts, that is everywhere. I refused to extend my contract in Monaco, but I wanted to do my last year.

" I have no regrets because that is how I am and that is how I will be as long as I am alive."

Champions League: Arsenal v Monaco, Emirates Stadium, 7.45pm (Sky)

Belfast Telegraph