When you listen to what Arsene Wenger said in his Arsenal press conference ahead of the visit of the first club he managed tomorrow, there is the distinct impression that the Frenchman is expecting a close run tie. He made the point about how close all these double headed knockout phases have been for the Gunners in recent years, with a single goal or just away goals making the difference.
And the fact that it has always gone against the Gunners in the previous four attempts has clearly got Wenger worried. Arsenal are favourites in the football betting to go through, but as an Arsenal.com report reveals, the boss has emphasised the need for his players to focus for every single minute of the game at the Emirates.
He said, “I don’t know if we are favourites or not, for me it is a 50:50 game. Every time we have been in there it was hard-earned wins. It is always a one-goal difference – you go out for one goal, you stay in for one goal and that means you have to work very hard.
“What has happened in the last four years is that we have gone out twice against the winners of the competition. What we have learnt is that it was on away goals or because of one goal, which shows you that every single minute of these games will be absolutely massively important. We have gone out, yes, but only just. We want to stay in, even if it is only just.
“In the last four years we always came out frustrated because three times we conceded a goal at home in the first 30 minutes. That goal knocked us out. It was really tight. We have learnt from that and we can show that on Wednesday.”
What that suggests to me is that the manager is more concerned about his team keeping a clean sheet tomorrow than scoring lots of goals. Of course he will expect Arsenal to have good possession, make good chances and hopefully score, but not at the expense of leaving ourselves vulnerable at the other end as we have so often in the past.
With just one clean sheet in the last four games and away goals being so important I can understand why Wenger is trying to hammer the need for complete focus home. One mistake or a moment of switching off tomorrow could give us a real problem when we travel to Monaco for the second leg. So is it more important for us to keep a clean sheet than it is to score?