First knockout round – first leg
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is looking forward to watching his side take on what he describes as “the ultimate test” when they meet holders Milan in the home leg of their Champions League first knockout round tie.
Wenger has a good record against Italian teams in recent years, with Juventus and Internazionale among his scalps. Of Milan, he said: “It is the ultimate test. We are the challengers because Milan are the holders of the Champions League. They have quality and experience. We can beat them but we know we will need to be at our best to beat them.”
Arsenal lead the Premier League by five points but they come into this game on the back of Saturday’s 4-0 FA defeat to Manchester United.
“A bad day at the office,” was Wenger’s opinion on the fifth-round loss. “Milan is such a massive task for us that we have already forgotten about Saturday.”
Milan’s domestic season has been disappointing and they currently lie 21 points behind city rivals Internazionale. Howewver, Wenger knows, a similar campaign last season did not stop the Rossoneri landing a seventh European crown.
“I believe this is an opportunity to show how good we are, because they are the best [with a] superb record in this competition,” added Wenger. “For me, the most important thing is to play without the handbrake – to go into the game with the desire to play our game and not calculate too much. We must really go for it and play with freedom.”
Arsenal rested several players at Old Trafford but Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Mathieu Flamini return as does Emmanuel Adebayor. Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Robin van Persie (thigh) and Abou Diaby (calf) are among the absentees while goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (virus) will be replaced by Jens Lehmann.
The visitors have their own goalkeeping concerns with Dida (back) sidelined and Zeljko Kalac hoping to overcome a dislocated finger. Veteran stopper Valerio Fiori, 38, is on standby, as is 18-year-old striker Pato who is struggling to overcome an ankle injury.
“We will need to show character, humility and the right attitude,” said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. “We must be brave. Our success to date has been down to that approach. Last season we went to United and to Bayern and took the game to them. I think this will be the same. We might even lose, as we did in Manchester, but we’ll stick to our game, safe in the knowledge there’s always the second leg.”