By Trevor Haylett in London
Only victory at home to Rosenborg BK will guarantee Arsenal FC a place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League but, for one of their biggest games of the season, manger Arsène Wenger is without two key players, including inspirational captain Patrick Vieira.
Three points required
Defeat or a draw against the Norwegian champions would put Arsenal, who were among the favourites at the start of the campaign, out of the competition should Panathinaikos FC defeat PSV Eindhoven, who have already qualified from Group E.
It is a big week for the English champions with Chelsea FC, who hold a five-point lead over them in the Premiership, due at Highbury on Sunday. The normal stability and sureness of selection which have characterised recent months have been thrown into doubt by Wenger's decision last weekend to drop first-choice goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to the substitutes' bench.
Important clean sheet
Manuel Almunia took over against Birmingham City FC and on his league debut the Spaniard helped his side establish a clean sheet for the first time in nine league outings. The 3-0 victory was also Arsenal's first win in five games in all competitions.
The manager, who is without Vieira and right-back Lauren through suspension, has made up his mind who will keep goal against Rosenborg but refused to reveal his decision in advance. "Lehmann is a great goalkeeper and Almunia is a great keeper as well, I have not changed my mind about either of them," Wenger said. "If Lehmann does not play for two or three weeks, or for a period longer or shorter than that, it does not mean that I have lost faith in him.
"[Saturday's] clean sheet lifts the morale of all the defenders and makes the whole team happy," the Arsenal manager continued. "We've had a period when we've had some problems and the [5-4] victory at Tottenham [Hotspur FC] could not lift us at the time because the defenders were not happy. But we can go into Tuesday's game with more belief, and have all the ingredients to have a positive week.
Tuesday is another big obstacle and we are all up for it and want to do well. I think we have the quality to do it."
Wenger did name the replacements for Vieira and Lauren, both of whom were sent off against PSV on Matchday 5, Arsenal's fourth successive draw in the group. Justin Hoyte, who only turned 20 two weeks ago, will fill the vancancy at right-back while Mathieu Flamini, also 20, will partner 17-year-old Cesc Fabregas in a midfield also lacking the injured Gilberto and Edu. Dennis Bergkamp is fit to return to the squad and a further boost came with Sol Campbell's announcement that he is close to signing a new contract.
Rosenborg know their task is a difficult one; they have not won in the Champions League since October 2001 and have a long list of injured players. New coach Per Joar Hansen, who got his first win since replacing Ola By Rise with a 2-1 victory over Esbjerg fB in the Scandinavian Royal League last week, said motivation will not be a problem even though they are certain to finish bottom of the group.
"You are meeting Arsenal, one of the most famous clubs in Europe, on their home ground," he said. "We are finishing a long season with this match and I know the players are eager to produce a good performance.
"Arsenal are maybe the best counterattacking team in Europe so it is important for us to be compact, with good discipline, high morale and to have the courage to keep the ball. If there is a right moment to meet Arsenal maybe this is it. Arsenal will miss their daddy, Vieira." How much remains to be seen.
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.