Against Juventus on Tuesday we showed character, togetherness, speed in our play and overall we were faithful to our game.

I was very pleased with the performance, but I have to say though I think we can do even better than that, much better. Before the game started we knew we would have to defend really well as a unit, and we managed to do that. The spirit continues to grow, and when the values we have always had at the Club are respected, we will always be a force. I am convinced we have the required quality of players here.

We knew that our youth, and ability to play at a high tempo, would be vital against Juve. I felt, at times though, that they were able to slow our rhythm down, but when we got into our stride we were always a threat. The fight during the game was always when we had to adjust to their pace, but when we were playing at our pace we were always dangerous.

Cesc had a great performance, maybe he got all the plaudits after the game mainly because he scored. I feel he has played that well, and even better than that, during this season, but perhaps without scoring. Now I want him to stay how he is, that means keeping it simple, enjoying the game, and trying to improve from day
to day.

Our young players who were being criticised earlier in the season, are now being built up just as much - I believe the truth is somewhere between the two. In football you always have to keep your feet on the ground.

People have been discussing the formation we played against Juventus, and basically I think the team has the spirit of a 4-4-2, because Jose Reyes plays as a striker. He is out wide on the wing but he has the freedom to go inside too. Organisation-wise, when we have the ball we play in a 4-3-3, and when we don't then it's a 4-5-1.

But we can say that there are four at the back, and they have been doing a great job recently in Europe. It was our seventh consecutive clean sheet in the Champions League, an incredible statistic considering we have played against Real Madrid twice, Ajax and Juventus. You also have to credit people like Manuel Almunia, Sol Campbell and Lauren, so this is a reward for all of them. I think in Europe especially though, we are more focused on defending as a team, and therefore we have been more efficient.

It helps to have consistency at the back, it also gives them confidence if we go from game to game without conceding. It makes them even more resilient so let's keep doing that.

As far as reaching the semi-finals is concerned, I feel we have done half of the job and of course we want to finish the job on Wednesday. Juventus will of course try and come at us at home, but we will try again to go out there and score goals. I rate our chances at 50/50 to go through.

Looking at the state of play in the three other quarter-finals, I think they are all very close. Villarreal against Inter looked like a very even game, both teams had very good chances, and both sides have strikers who can take advantage of defensive mistakes. The second leg of that tie is very difficult to predict.

In the other two games I would say that Barcelona appear to have the advantage over Benfica, because they are at home in the second leg. But what I will say about that is that Benfica were surprising at Old Trafford, and at Anfield, this season, and they didn't lose either match. So who knows what they can do at the Nou Camp, but Barca should have enough offensive power to go through.

And Lyon v Milan is also an open one. I think Lyon are better on the counter-attack, and they struggle sometimes at home in the French league, so they are a side who prefer to be away.

The challenge in front of us now is to remember that every game has the same importance at this stage of the season. We want to get the three points today against Aston Villa, we can not afford to drop points in the Premier League. The future of this team is at stake, and the way we capitalise on games at Highbury will certainly determine whether we qualify for next season's Champions League or not.

I haven't really studied the fixture lists of the other teams fighting for fourth place, basically all that concerns me is whether our fate is in our own hands. If we take maximum points then we will finish above Tottenham, but not Blackburn, so at the moment we have to focus on them - because they are quite efficient.

Today we are thinking about Aston Villa, and I think although their morale is not at its highest, they are a good side. Similar to us they have many good young players, so they have good periods and bad periods.

I am not as pessimistic about Aston Villa as many others seem to be at the moment, but I certainly hope we can take advantage of our positive mood and get the points. And of course we are at Highbury - we simply have no choice but to get maximum points from our home matches.

You can all play a part in that. Cheer the team on to get the points we need today, and enjoy the match.

Arsène Wenger


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31 Mar 2006