As Arsène Wenger says, there's no need to calculate or speculate. Arsenal have to win against Internazionale tonight, otherwise hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions' League are, at best, out of their hands and, at worst, dead.
"For us it is clear," Wenger said yesterday. "We have to win if we want to stay in the competition. It is down to us." To do so, Arsenal must collect three points for the first time in a year on their travels in Europe - "I never thought we'd be in that situation," Wenger admitted - the anniversary of that astonishing 3-1 victory against Roma approaching on Thursday. To their advantage is, firstly, the fact that Inter will want to win - to avoid travelling to Kiev next month in need of a result - and, secondly, the knowledge that this Italian side is less than formidable. Indeed, their 3-0 victory at Highbury in September was by far their best result this season.
"They may play with Recoba, Vieri, Martins, Cruz," Wenger said. "I don't know what they will do. They are also in a situation where they have to go for it. It is dangerous for them to leave it for the last game." Unless, of course, Dynamo Kiev are unlikely winners against Lokomotiv in Moscow - a result which will be known prior to kick-off. Arsenal will pray for a draw.
Wenger was navigating a tight course between rallying his troops and dampening down the reaction if they fail - especially the financial implications of not carrying on in this most lucrative of environments. "It would be a big disappointment but I don't think for the future of the club it would be a disaster," he maintained. "I don't base the success of our season on the money that comes in. That is not a priority in my plans. My priorities are sporting."
The Arsenal board may not agree. Not that the manager is being complacent, and he offered an insight into his own psyche. "I accept now that I will never be completely fulfilled [as a coach]," he said. "I will always have problems when we lose a competition... I never look back at what we won but always what we lost."
He may soon have plenty to reflect upon then: not least why this competition proves such a block. One quarter-final in five attempts is woeful for a club that Wenger points out are the fifth-ranked in Europe. "I would say we have not done it in the Champions' League and that is true," he said. "We have done it in the Uefa Cup but that is the 'second division' in Europe. There are no excuses but I think we have been in a difficult group and the two games we lost we were unlucky, especially the second [in Kiev]."
Others may disagree with that assessment and Wenger's claim that Arsenal are "close to getting there" in terms of success. Another concern has been the over-reliance on Thierry Henry. The impressive nature of Saturday's victory against Birmingham City was therefore burnished by the identity of the three goalscorers - never before, surely, has a blank return for the Frenchman been so celebrated. The 3-0 win also showed, again, Arsenal's extraordinary reserves of resilience after losing six players to injury and suspension.
Despite his display at St Andrew's, Wenger has resisted the temptation to put the non-flying Dennis Bergkamp on a night sleeper to Milan. In his stead Nwankwo Kanu - like Bergkamp a former Inter player - may be used as Sylvain Wiltord is injured. The defence will be shorn of Lauren, not to mention Patrick Vieira's protective qualities, but Martin Keown was a surprise traveller. Gilberto Silva is a doubt with a knock picked up playing for Brazil last week.
Inter have problems of their own. They dropped dramatically in Serie A after their Highbury win and dispensed with their dour Argentinian coach, Hector Cuper, after winning just one of their subsequent seven matches. However, the Nerazzurri trounced Reggina 6-0 at the weekend and their new coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, fields the attacking 3-4-3 formation that he used when leading AC Milan to the Scudetto in 1999. It is a style which may suit Arsenal. "They play a lot more adventurously now," said Wenger. "We will be under more pressure defensively but there will be more chances to score goals." Inter, last season's semi-finalists, will be some proposition. It should be some encounter.
Arsenal (probable) (4-4-2): Lehmann; Touré, Cygan, Campbell, Cole; Ljungberg, Edu, Parlour, Pires; Kanu, Henry.
Internazionale (probable) (3-4-3): Toldo; Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro; J Zanetti, C Zanetti, Lamouchi, Pasquale; Van der Meyde, Martins, Vieri.
Referee: W Stark (Germany).Reuse content