Wenger puts faith in attack

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The Independent Football

The natural instinct would be to defend everything and weather what the Juventus captain Lilian Thuram predicted would be a "hurricane" of attacks from the home side tonight, but Arsène Wenger promised that his Arsenal team would not abandon their attacking principles ­ even with a place in the European Cup semi-final at stake.

In the Stadio delle Alpi, against a club who have made defending into an art form, Arsenal's new young side faces one of their severest tests as Juventus attempt temporarily to transform themselves into a team with the attacking abandon of their opponents. His team, Wenger said, have to use the " psychological advantage" of their 2-0 first leg lead and repeat the astonishing feat of their victory away to Real Madrid when, he said, " we were not intimidated and did not lose our game".

It will be "the real Juventus", Thuram claimed, that will turn up tonight, as opposed to the team out-played at Highbury last week, but it will also be a Juventus without Alessandro Del Piero, who has not recovered fitness sufficiently to warrant a place on the bench. Even without the veteran striker and the suspended Patrick Vieira, Mauro Camoranesi and Jonathan Zebina, this is hardly Aston Villa whom Arsenal will be facing and, if a hurricane is about to blow, Wenger picked out the most dangerous element.

The Czech international Pavel Nedved, back after a suspension for the first leg, was identified as the danger man ­ "British-style" was how Wenger summarised Juventus' likely approach. "They have two forwards who are good in the air and Nedved who is a penetrating player on the second ball and he makes a lot of runs," he said.

"I saw that Thuram said they would try to score early on and put us under pressure. I believe that we have to defend as a team but not too high.

"I just feel you have to be faithful to the way you are at your best. You have examples of both, teams who play a very economical way and were successful and teams who played in a very spectacular way and were successful. You are successful when what you play is suited to your players so you try to play in a way that they feel comfortable with."

When it comes to concerns about his side's form it is the Juventus manager, Fabio Capello, who will nurture more than Wenger. While Arsenal dispatched five goals past Aston Villa on Saturday, Juventus managed only a goalless draw with Serie A's bottom club Treviso. Their attack of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet have taken most of the criticism in Italy. Nevertheless, Wenger said pointedly, his team are not the kind who can "wait for things to happen".

Neither can Juventus. History is against them: only three teams in the history of the Champions' League have ever come back from a first leg two-goal deficit. The Italians last won by a margin that will suffice tonight when they beat Cagliari 4-0 at home in Serie A on 11 December. Juventus will have to score at least two against an Arsenal who will break Milan's Champions' League record of seven consecutive clean sheets if they do not concede.

Jens Lehmann can take much of the credit should they pass that milestone and the German goalkeeper said yesterday that the "style" that had returned to Arsenal's game was confirmation of the changes they have been through in the past two months. "It doesn't make us really happy because we are used to having more success domestically ­ deep in ourselves we know that ­ but the next step back comes against Juventus," he said.

It made a change in Arsenal's injury-plagued season that, while Del Piero was being ruled out of the match, Wenger confirmed that Emmanuel Eboué and Cesc Fabregas have progressed from a pessimistic "60-40 against" to a rosy "80 per cent" chance of playing. Sol Campbell will be on the bench once again, peripheral to Arsenal on their most important night of the season so far.

It was Campbell who sprang to mind when Wenger admitted that "two months ago everybody considered us to be a joke" ­ around that time Arsenal lost 3-2 to West Ham United at home and the England defender excused himself at half-time. From sixth in the Premiership then, Wenger said he was pleased that his team now have their own destiny ­ the Champions' League and fourth place in the Premiership ­ back in their own hands.

It is testament to Wenger's players that, for this game at least, they have relegated the issue of Thierry Henry's future to the margins. The Arsenal managing director, Keith Edelman, said yesterday he believed the chances of the striker signing a new contract in the summer were "better than 50-50 ". The Champions' League run is also the chance for Wenger secure his legacy as the last of the four managers at the Premiership's top table ­ with Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez ­ who has brought home the biggest trophy of all.

"I'm not specifically obsessed with it but people always expect from you what you have not done ­ you have to accept that," Wenger said. "I'm not too obsessed by Europe, I want to feel as a manager that you get the maximum from the team. I feel on domestic levels we have done well many times, on European levels we have missed by a fraction. I have my own sentiment about what I have achieved. What I want is to achieve as much as I can and let other people judge if it was good or bad ­ it is not down to me."

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