Arsene Wenger is confident his Arsenal team can overturn their 1-0 deficit against Manchester United and book a place in the final of the Champions League.
The Frenchman cited his side’s 24-match, five-year unbeaten run at home in the competition as he expressed his belief that they could eliminate the holders.
“I am very confident that the team will produce a magnificent performance and that we will [qualify],” he said. “We are playing a home game where we have a very strong record in the Champions League. For many people we are outsiders but I believe we can do it.”
“There is no mission impossible for us. It wouldn’t change my belief even if they scored.”
While Wenger can draw encouragement from the fact Arsenal have not conceded a home goal in the Champions League this season and are unbeaten in the Premier League in their last 21 matches – United arrived in London with their own grounds for optimism, having never failed to score on their three previous visits to the new Arsenal Stadium.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson urged his players to maintain that record, arguing that an away goal will all but ensure United’s progress to the final.
“We have to go there with the intent of trying to score,” he said. “I think we need to score, and that would be a big advantage to us if we did – Arsenal would then have to score three. We have got a lead and we are only one kick away from Rome, it is a big incentive for us.”
United’s manager predicted a “very, very close” game which could go to extra time and he will hope that both Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra are fit to start tonight. Ferdinand missed Saturday’s 2-0 win at Middlesbrough with a rib injury, while Evra limped off at the Riverside.
Wenger has doubts over defender Mikael Silvestre’s groin injury and must also decide whether to start with leading scorer Robin van Persie, back in the squad after a fortnight’s absence through injury.
The Arsenal manager expects his team will be sharper than they were at Old Trafford.
“We will make sure tomorrow that sharpness, that decisiveness in the duels, is on our side this time,” he said.
Wenger believes home advantage will play a part – “the fans will be vital” – even if the Gunners have succeeded only once in eight previous attempts to retrieve a first-leg deficit back in London in UEFA club competition.
United have lost two of the three ties where they led 1-0 after the home leg – their only success the 1968 semi-final against Real Madrid.