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Acid test of Arsenal ambitions

Arsène Wenger is looking forward to seeing Arsenal FC take "the ultimate test" when they tackle holders AC Milan in the home leg of their first knockout round tie.

Arsène Wenger knows how dangerous Milan can be
Arsène Wenger knows how dangerous Milan can be ©Getty Images

Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger is looking forward to watching his side take "the ultimate test" when they go head to head with holders AC Milan in the home leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie.

'Ultimate test'
Wenger has a good record against Italian teams in recent years, with memorable encounters against Juventus and FC Internazionale Milano resulting in aggregate wins for the Gunners. Even so, he sees the visitors as favourites, saying: "It is the ultimate test. We are the challengers because Milan are the holders of the Champions League. They have quality and experience. We can beat them but we know we will need to be at our best to beat them."

Flying high
The London club are flying high atop the Premier League, with eight victories in an unbeaten ten-match run having propelled them five points clear of Manchester United FC – who beat Arsenal 4-0 in the FA Cup at the weekend. "A bad day at the office," was Wenger's take on the fifth-round loss. "Milan is such a massive task for us that we have already forgotten about Saturday."

Defending champions
Unlike their hosts', Milan's domestic season has been disappointing despite them claiming six wins from ten Serie A games to climb into fifth place – 21 points behind city rivals FC Internazionale Milano. As Wenger knows, a below-par top-flight campaign did not stop the Rossoneri landing a seventh European crown last term. He continued: "I believe this is an opportunity to show how good we are, because they are the best [with a] superb record in this competition. For me, the most important thing is to play without the handbrake – to go into the game with the desire to play our game and not calculate too much. We must really go for it and play with freedom."

Almunia out
Arsenal rested several players at Old Trafford but Bacary Sagna, Gaël Clichy and Mathieu Flamini return as does Emmanuel Adebayor. Tomáš Rosický (hamstring), Robin van Persie (thigh) and Abou Diaby (calf) are among the absentees while goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (virus) will be replaced by Milan old boy Jens Lehmann. The visitors have their own goalkeeping concerns with Dida (back) sidelined and Zeljko Kalac hoping to overcome a dislocated finger. Veteran custodian Valerio Fiori, 38, is on standby, as is striker Pato – 20 years his junior. The Brazilian is striving to recover from an ankle knock in time to add to his four goals in six outings for his new club, although Ronaldo is out for the season after suffering another serious knee injury last week.

'Right attitude'
"We will need to show character, humility and the right attitude," said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, who can take confidence from the semi-final elimination of Manchester United last spring. "We must be brave. Our success to date has been down to that approach. Last season we went to United and to [FC] Bayern [München] and took the game to them. I think this will be the same. We might even lose, as we did in Manchester, but we'll stick to our game, safe in the knowledge there's always the second leg."