Mowbray must pass toughest test – how to outplay Arsenal

Celtic manager caught the train to glimpse glorious Gunners, now he's out to derail Wenger's Euro stars
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The Independent Football

As he ponders what it will be to take this team of his into confrontation with Arsenal, Tony Mowbray is wrestling with subtleties. The dilemma is how much of himself he must suppress, how much of the idealism of his own ambitions he must quie-ten for now.

He has a clear vision of the way he wants Celtic to play, but Arsenal already represent the highest, most brilliant embodiment of those values.

In a corner of his heart, the place where he guards the purest form of his ideals, he will understand the need to cede in some way to Arsène Wenger. The Frenchman vividly shaped the Celtic manager's priorities, as Mowbray used to take the train to Highbury, when he first began coaching at Ipswich, to watch Arsenal play Champions' League games.

The team of Bergkamp, Vieira, Petit, Henry, which had at its core a sense of artistry, displayed a casually brutal beauty in the way it expressed an aesthetic form of dominance. Mowbray found a sense of purpose.

"I'm a guy who wants to soak up football wherever I can," he says. "The ease with which they could dispatch some of the best teams in Europe was inspiring. [Wenger] gave Arsenal an identity. I try to give my teams an identity, but we can't take them on in an open, expansive football match."

Mowbray wants his team to eventually find a form of that fierce

grace, but when Arsenal visit Celtic Park on Tuesday, in the first leg of the Champions' League play-off, he will seek to constrain Wenger's side, rather than aspire to match them. He will emphasise the need to be watchful, to narrow the field, to constrict Arsenal, while also remaining mindful of the exhilarating impetus that scoring a goal can stir on nights like these.

"This is the difficulty of games like these for us, because we're a football team, but Arsenal are one of the very best," Mowbray adds. "We will create chances against them, because of the way they play, but we need to keep it tight, to deny them space."

This is the fourth time Arsenal have played in this round of the Champions' League and their results are emphatic: a 6-0 aggregate win over Twente Enschede, a 5-0 win over Sparta Prague and a 5-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Wenger has never failed to reach the Champions' League in 13 years at the club and although Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor have departed for Manchester City, his faith in the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and the emerging Jack Wilshere, is absolute. "At 22, 23, a team is mature enough to deliver and it is a massively important year for the club," Wenger says. "I am conscious of that."

They are driven by the same imperatives, these two managers, but it is Mowbray who will seek comfort in caution on Tuesday. He told a story last Friday of having just received a letter from Bill Kenwright, in which the Everton chairman described the first half of his team's fixture at The Hawthorns last season as "the best football I have seen in a long, long time". But, Mowbray himself pointed out, "history will show West Brom were relegated".

There are times, he understands, when prudence is rewarding.

Best battles of Britain

Rangers v Wolves

1961 European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final

The first meeting between English and Scottish sides in Europe saw Rangers win 2-0 at Ibrox, before a 1-1 draw at Molineux. Rangers lost in the final to Fiorentina.

Leeds v Celtic

1970 European Cup semi-final

George Connelly scored early at Elland Road for a 1-0 win over Don Revie's Invincibles. Then, in front of a record crowd of 136,505 in Glasgow, Celtic won 2-1 to reach the final, which they surprisingly lost to Feyenoord.

Ipswich v Aberdeen

1981 Uefa Cup first round

A meeting between Bobby Robson and Alex Ferguson, long before they became football knights, saw the teams draw 1-1 at Portman Road, before Aberdeen triumphed 3-1 at Pittodrie.

Manchester United v Dundee United

1984 Uefa Cup third round

Gordon Strachan scored one penalty and missed another in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford and the teams were heading for a similar result at Tannadice until Dutch master Arnold Muhren struck to make it 3-2.

Leeds v Rangers

1992 European Cup second round

After a 1-1 draw at Ibrox came a raucous night at Elland Road. Rangers were arch and bullish, scoring through a memorable volley from Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist's diving header, before Eric Cantona grabbed a consolation, to become the first British club to reach the Champions' League

Manchester United v Celtic

2006 Champions' League group stage

The Scottish side lost the opening group game 3-2 at Old Trafford but Shunsuke Nakamura's artfully conceived and precisely executed free-kick secured a 1-0 win at Celtic Park.

Richard Wilson