Arsenal bring audacity and 'arrogance' as they bid for place in history

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One word from Arsène Wenger hit home as unerringly as if it had been a shot struck by Thierry Henry. That word was "audacious".

One word from Arsène Wenger hit home as unerringly as if it had been a shot struck by Thierry Henry. That word was "audacious".

Beating Chelsea in the Champions' League quarter-finals, the Arsenal manager said, was not simply a question of history repeating itself - although with a record of 16 confrontations between the teams without defeat, anything else would be almost seismic. Instead it was down to "playing with a big heart and by being audacious, and that's what we would like to repeat," he said. Precisely, in fact, the qualities that Claudio Ranieri's team have been accused of lacking by their hugely ambitious employers.

Confidence is coursing through the Arsenal players - although it has been reportedly defined by some, such as Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, as arrogance. Again Wenger's verdict was sanguine - and, for his opponents, a little scary. "The only thing I can say is that our confidence has never been as high as it is at the moment," he claimed before adding the rider: "But football is football. It's not predictable.

"Humility," he said, was an equally precious commodity.

Nevertheless, that confidence, emboldened by some of the most joyously successful football ever seen, is such that Wenger went on to make the extraordinary claim that his squad has not given a thought to the forthcoming games against Manchester United, in the League and the FA Cup. "The good thing is that because each game is so big you do not think of the next," he said of the amazing, congested sequence Arsenal now face in search of their Treble. These are heady days. "Certainly, yes," Wenger agreed. "Because you do not find times in the whole history of the club where you play for the title and the quarter-finals of the Champions' League and the Cup."

The irony for Ranieri is clear. To defeat Arsenal he needs to strangle the game. And in doing so he will, again, fail to provide that audacity, the flair that Roman Abramovich is supposedly insisting upon. "I would expect them to try and stop us from playing, to close us down and try to pin us in our half," Wenger said. Not champagne football, then.

In Europe, at least, it is the immovable object - with Chelsea having gone five games without conceding a goal - against the irresistible force of Arsenal's attack, which has furnished five straight victories. Despite Arsenal's supremacy, domestic form, in a sense, goes out of the window, not least because there will be a European referee. It is a factor that Wenger has noted.

"That may be an unknown - which way the referee will react to this kind of game," he said. "They are less permissive on the continent and they might be surprised by some of the challenges that go on in the Premiership." The onus, he claimed, was for Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez - and not the "40,000 fans and 22 players" - to adapt. "For people to enjoy the game it has to be fluent," he said. And fluency is what his players thrive on.

Not that Wenger, or his goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, feel Chelsea will be lacking in confidence. "In such a game I have no doubt that the team spirit will be quite good," Lehmann said. Wenger identified another new factor: the presence of Chelsea's Damien Duff, who missed the last two encounters between the sides. "He adds something offensively to their squad, without a doubt, and he's a major danger," he said. "He is one we have to keep quiet."

If that is achieved, and Arsenal succeed, the debate over Ranieri's future will rage further. "I respect Claudio Ranieri a lot and of course it's difficult for me to interfere in what is going on at another club," said Wenger, who contended that the Italian had received "positive publicity" because of the way he has handled the intolerable situation "with dignity". But that sympathy would not cloud his desire to win. "There is a difference between having sympathy and doing your maximum to win a game," he said. "You can play tennis against your wife and you love her to death - but you still want to win."

Wenger's own name is fancifully among those suggested as a replacement. But he gave that idea short shrift. "I don't know if I've been linked with the job but I am strongly linked with the job here," he said. "I live in a bubble and don't know much what is going on there."

It seems unlikely, although not impossible, that the bubble will burst. Wenger and his team exude the air of sportsmen ready to embrace their place in history. "We want to take our chance," Wenger said ruefully, recalling the defeat, to Valencia, in the only other time Arsenal have been this far in this competition.

Until victory is secured there is no time for relaxation, although, with his usual wicked sense of humour, Wenger said that one way to unwind was to "watch somebody else in trouble". He will be at the right place for that tonight.

Arsenal (probable 4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Campbell, Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Edu, Pires; Bergkamp, Henry.

Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).

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