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Wenger wary of Madrid menace

Published: Wednesday 8 March 2006, 1.44CET
Arsène Wenger said Arsenal FC will have to be careful balancing attack and defence in the Real Madrid CF return because "we are not experts at hanging on".
by Tim Collings
from London

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Published: Wednesday 8 March 2006, 1.44CET

Wenger wary of Madrid menace

Arsène Wenger said Arsenal FC will have to be careful balancing attack and defence in the Real Madrid CF return because "we are not experts at hanging on".

Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger is confident his team can finish the job they started in Spain two weeks ago by beating Real Madrid CF at Highbury on Wednesday to secure a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the third time.

Balance required
But Wenger, who expects Madrid to perform at their best as they seek to recover a 1-0 first-leg deficit, conceded that Arsenal will have to be careful how they balance attack and defence, because "we are not experts at hanging on" to a slim lead.

'Right track'
"We have to concentrate and to defend for the whole match," he said. "If we don't, even if we miss that for just five minutes, it can be fatal. This is the second part of a knockout over 180 minutes and it will be a very big game. We have belief that we can do it and we can score again. We know we are on the right track."

Henry in form
Wenger's confidence was boosted by Arsenal's 4-0 win at Fulham FC in the English Premiership last Saturday, when leading scorer Thierry Henry, who got the only goal at the Santiago Bernabéu, struck twice to take his seasonal tally to 17 league goals. He also has four in the UEFA Champions League. "Thierry will not want to be a 'galáctico'," he said. "But, like me, he wants the team to win and go through."

Pirès important
Wenger said midfielder Robert Pirès has been added to the squad, but confirmed that defenders Sol Campbell, Pascal Cygan, Gaël Clichy and Ashley Cole remain unfit. "Pirès will be a very important part of our plans," said Wenger, who added that forward Theo Walcott, who will turn 17 on 16 March, will be on the substitutes' bench and will play if needed.

Chance to shine
Walcott, however, will not become the youngest player to appear in the UEFA Champions League if called upon. Celestine Babayaro started RSC Anderlecht's tie against FC Steaua Bucuresti in November 1994 aged 16 years and 87 days. Should he score, though, Walcott would be the youngest to find the net in the competition.

Options open
Whatever the personnel, Wenger stressed his side will be flexible and responsive. He expects Madrid to be more aggressive, more offensive and to play to a higher level than they did in the home leg. "I expect them to perform at their best," he warned.

Ronaldo doubt
Madrid, 2-1 derby winners against Club Atlético de Madrid at the weekend, are seeking to rescue their campaign with a tenth success in the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Coach Juan Ramón López Caro, in charge since December, is adamant his star-studded team will attack, but gave no reply when asked if he will select Ronaldo. The Brazilian was dropped from the squad for the Atlético match.

Attack, attack, attack
"We are going to attack and try to win, we are not going to change our approach," said López Caro, suggesting a spectacular feast of football in prospect. "Both teams play open, attacking football. In the first leg, Arsenal worked very hard and nobody could have done more than they did. They have an advantage, but we are not going to abandon our style. The team that scores the most goals will win and it's going to be about being clinical with the chances."

As to whether Madrid have the defensive players to stop Arsenal producing their free-flowing football, he added: "We have players who can play physically, but I think the most important thing is how you play the ball. We have technical players and will try to play technically, but we will keep some physicality in our game."

Ready to fight
However, with the Spanish title seemingly destined for FC Barcelona, and the Copa del Rey out of reach, Madrid's last chance of silverware rests on 90 minutes in north London. Brazilian forward Robinho admitted as much: "I knew these competitions were difficult to win and I know it will be a big fight for us."

Last updated: 08/03/06 22.45CET