Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger argues that his side's self-belief will be key against FC Lokomotiv Moskva.
By Trevor Haylett
In a UEFA Champions League group so tightly contested that all four teams can still finish top, the Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger argues it is his side's self-belief, strengthened by their remarkable 5-1 victory at Internazionale FC on Matchday 5, that can carry them to a qualifying place.
At Highbury on Wednesday Arsenal face an FC Lokomotiv Moskva side who lead Group B going into the final round of matches. A draw will guarantee the Russian champions' safe passage to the last 16 but such a result is only good enough for Wenger's team if FC Dynamo Kyiv and Inter also end all-square.
"For us it is very clear," said Wenger. "We need the three points. The only thing easy to predict about the game is that I expect them to defend well and us to attack well." Arsenal have only once reached the quarter-finals of this competition and on Matchday 4 another early exit looked assured when, with two minutes left on the clock, Dynamo were holding on for a goalless draw at Highbury.
Then Ashley Cole struck, Arsenal had a first victory on the board and their campaign began to acquire some belated momentum. "At one time we seemed to be going out of the competition," Wenger admitted. "Mentally we are on the up and because of what happened in the last two games our belief will be stronger than it would otherwise have been."
With a "little doubt" surrounding Thierry Henry's availability, Wenger will wait to see how his star striker's knee responds to late tests. If fit he will definitely start because "he is such an asset to us," although Wenger stressed he would never gamble with the health of any of his players.
Patrick Vieira is also ready to aid Arsenal's push after missing the weekend visit to Leicester City FC. Having only returned to action four days before following a two-month absence with a thigh injury it was decided not to risk him with such a crucial game looming.
'A great chance'
Lauren is unavailable but otherwise Arsenal should be at full strength. "We believe we have a great chance, everyone is focussed and we have a lot of players in the team with 40 or 50 Champions League games behind them," Wenger added. "The way we handle the pressure that might come if we don't score early on will be decisive for the outcome of the game."
With the Russian league season ending at the start of last month, Lokomotiv have been preparing for the game in Spain. Coach Yuri Semin said: "It is a very decisive match for both sides. We fully understand that Arsenal will have the strong support of their fans and they love to play attractive football.
'The result is everything'
"We like to play good football but tomorrow the result is everything. We are currently leading the group and we will do everything to maintain this position. The tactics might change during the match but there is only one thing for sure and that is that we will have a battle for 90 minutes. Arsenal are strong opponents but we will do our best."
Lokomotiv's only injury doubt surrounds Russian international midfielder Marat Izmailov who came out of the recent UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off tie against Wales with a leg injury. However goalkeeper Sergei I. Ovchinnikov summed up the determination in the Russian camp by saying: "We play to win. We do not go to the pitch to lose. Arsenal have to worry more than us tomorrow."