By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger is convinced his side are on the verge of greatness no matter what happens at the San Siro this evening.
At the start of the season, the Frenchman saw his young team portrayed as the weaklings of the 'Big Four' who would struggle to retain their Champions League status after the coming campaign.
Although their form has started to teeter in recent games, when they walk out to face Carlo Ancelotti's side this evening Wenger's men will have their two main targets - the Premier League and the Champions League - still within sight.
If you believe the bookmakers those European hopes will only last another 90 minutes. Certainly Milan are heavyweight opponents. They have never lost to English opponents at home and they have gone through at the San Siro in each of their five previous knockout ties when the away leg has finished 0-0. But Wenger is not viewing his side's development in terms of this game alone.
"I believe this side will improve no matter what happens on Tuesday night," he said at Monday's press conference. "We will be a great side. I feel we are already one but a cup game is decided on the form of the day. If you ask me are we as strong as Milan then I say yes but the form of the day will decide tomorrow. However this team will achieve great things."
That said, Wenger knows there is only one yardstick for true footballing greatness.
"By winning major trophies and consistently competing at the top level," he replied when asked for his own definition. "At the moment I feel a top team is consistent. I can play a great shot in tennis or golf but to beat a great player I need to be consistent. Consistency is the first mark of a great team and we have that.
"To be almost unbeaten in a whole season in the same way Inter Milan are dominating their championship is a fantastic achievement.
"After that you have sides who make history. Sides who win the European Cup three, four or five times on the trot. This team is far from doing that, we have to go step by step.
"But they have experienced different steps up so far this season. The first one was to raise themselves up the level I expected them to achieve. The second thing was to be under [pressure for] expected performances. We have been under pressure since January now.
"Before January, we were the surprise of the season, since January people take us as candidates for the Premier League so we have matured quite quickly."
The extent of that maturity will be scrutinised this evening.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 4 Mar 2008