For Arsène Wenger, Tuesday’s Champions League tie with Bayern Munich is all about making a breakthrough.
Arsenal are in the last 16 of the Europe’s top competition for the 13th season in a row, a record unmatched on the continent at the moment. But the manager hankers after another appearance in the final to match his, and his club’s, solitary showpiece in 2006.
They start the knockout phase against arguably the toughest opposition out there - Bayern Munich.
Last season’s finalists have a record-breaking grip on the Bundesliga right now. Under the venerable Jupp Heynckes, they are unbeaten in 18 games (including five wins out of five since returning from their mid-winter break) and have conceded just seven goals in their 22 league games this season.
Arsenal to win @11/4
They are a daunting prospect.
But Bayern are not much more intimidating than facing Juventus and Real Madrid with a patched-up defence as Arsenal did at a similar stage seven years ago. Those ties were decided by snatched first-leg leads and staunch second-leg defending - plus a dash of luck.
Blackburn rolled a similar sort of recipe into 90 minutes at Emirates Stadium on Saturday and it resulted in Arsenal going out of the FA Cup in disappointing fashion.
And that leads us to the other breakthrough required on Tuesday - the one that pierces negativity.
Arsenal’s greatest triumphs have often been preceded by problems. That is part of what made them so great.
Losing to Derby at home just before Anfield '89, losing to Man United in the FA Cup and Chelsea in the Champions League inside four days came in the middle of the Invincibles season, and it took a last-minute penalty to keep a wobbling Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final (part of an eventual Double) in 1971.
The examples are legion. But the responses have been recorded in history as though it were inevitable.
Though still smarting from Saturday’s defeat at his press conference on Tuesday, Wenger was trying to point out what, in the tunnel vision of the present, has been overlooked.
“In Europe, we have beaten everybody,” he said. “That is what people forget. And we are the only team that has gone into a final without conceding a goal [in the knockout stages].
“In the Champions League you will always face some teams with quality - Barcelona, Real Madrid - but they don’t win it every year. We have been consistently there. But now we want to break through.
“People will say now is not the best opportunity to do it but I think it is a fantastic opportunity because I feel I have a strong team.
We must play with a positive mentality. It is important you believe you have a good chance and quality enough to win. The psychological aspect, especially with what happened on Saturday, is more important than anything else in this gameArsène Wenger
“It is vital to forget what people say and focus on our strengths.
“We play for Arsenal and we are in the last 16 of the Champions League, we have qualified to this stage for a long, long time. So what is important is not what people say, it is what happens on the pitch. We live in a democracy of experts and opinions but we have to live with it, cope with it and show we have the mental strength to deal with it. There are a lot of experts who are not necessarily always right.”
Bayern are without Jerome Boateng for both legs after he was sent off on matchday six. But their squad is a roll call of major names - Ribery, Robben, Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Pizarro, Shaqiri, Javi Martinez, Muller.
They have won 10 out of their 11 away games in the Bundesliga, conceding just one goal in the process. But then, the statistics also suggest, Arsenal need to chisel out an advantage at Emirates as, if you discount last season’s final, Bayern are unbeaten in their last 10 home games in the Champions League.
Wherever you look the numbers are daunting.
I believe it is vital we keep a clean sheet because 0-0 at home is a very good result in the Champions League knockout stagesArsène Wenger
“Bayern have the same team this year as last year,” said Wenger. “They have started well, they are top of the Bundesliga and they play with a charisma and a belief.
"But last year, they were 12 points behind Dortmund who also have exactly the same team as well. So sometimes the recent history of the team builds the kind of confidence that makes them go into the game believing.
“I believe it is vital we keep a clean sheet because 0-0 at home is a very good result in the Champions League knockout stages.
“Of course, we are a team who are offensive and we will try to go forward and try to score goals but 0-0 is not a disaster at home.”
At this moment, the obvious example for Arsenal is Chelsea, who fell out of the top four in the Premier League last season but managed to squeeze past Napoli and Barcelona in the Champions League before coming from behind to beat Bayern in the final.
“Maybe,” mused Wenger when thrown the comparison to chew on. “But it doesn't depend only on [you], it depends on the other teams as well.
“You will not every year have Lionel Messi miss a penalty and hit the bar in the semi-final [like he did]. So you need a bit of luck.
“But it's a good inspiration for us to show the same resilience and hope.
“And sometimes,” Wenger concluded, “the luck goes your way when you have that resilience.”
Blackburn proved that on Saturday, as did Arsenal did just seven days earlier at Sunderland.
And Wenger’s side have shown enough to suggest they are perfectly capable of doing it again on Tuesday.
Nothing is inevitable in football.
Arsenal: Gibbs (thigh), Koscielny (knock), Monreal (ineligible)
Bayern: Boateng (suspended), Badstuber (knee), Pizarro (illness)
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR)
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