Arsene Wenger last night explained it was the "remarkable mental strength" he believes his team possess which allowed them to win qualification. The Arsenal manager watched his side complete the astonishing turnaround from being bottom of Group B to topping it - with three consecutive victories - and said: "Of course I'm very proud because we did what no one expected us to do."
The feat means they will now be seeded in the knock-out stage, and play the second leg at home fuelling belief that Arsenal can now surpass their best ever performance and go further than the quarter-final stages. "The fact that we had a bad start will certainly keep us alert and focused for the next draw," Wenger said.
He explained his players' motivation. "We felt badly done by in all the first three games [two defeats and a draw] and we promised ourselves to fight until the end," Wenger said. "It was very tight because we're intelligent enough to know that in the 90th minute against Kiev we were basically out [before Ashley Cole's late goal]. But I think the fact that we turned it shows the strength we have. Not qualifying would have been a big blow for everyone because when you get so close having come so far and you lose again, it is a huge disappointment."
The goalscorer Fredrik Ljungberg agreed. "Winning 5-1 in Milan [against Internazionale] gave us the self-belief we did not have before," he said. "We don't want to be big-headed but we want to go further than we have done before."
Wenger added: "There is a reluctance to give us the credit in Europe from you [the media] but we are ranked No 5 and that is down to what we have done in Europe. No one gives you points as Christmas presents. We are just a step further now and are very happy with that because three games ago we were nowhere." The fine line between success and failure, he said, was displayed by the fortunes of Inter, who won 3-0 at Highbury in September but failed to qualify. "It shows at this level how football turns from one side to another. To qualify you must stay focused."
His players, he said, lost a little of that focus last night. "Nerves played their part in the second half. We played very well in the first half and mastered the situation well. In the second we knew it was more down to us not to make a mistake and we would qualify. But by wanting to be cautious we gave them one or two opportunities to be dangerous."
Clearly he fears the presence of Bayern Munich one of the unseeded teams in the draw. "There are some teams, for example the Germans, who now have a good rest and good break. When you then play them in March they are more difficult because of that."
The Lokomotiv Moscow coach, Yuri Semin, was clear what he wanted: Roman Abramovich's Chelsea. "It will be a big event in the country," he said.Reuse content