Wenger believes in comeback bid

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Published: Monday 16th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his side to believe they can beat the odds to overturn a 3-1 deficit to defeat Monaco on Tuesday night and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The Gunners jetted out to the Principality tax haven, famous for its casinos and yacht-lined waterfront, needing to rewrite the history books to become the first team to qualify when heading into the away leg having to score more than one goal to avoid elimination.

Wenger accepts his men failed to produce the required performance in London last month when they squandered numerous chances before being hit on the counter – with a potentially fatal third goal coming in stoppage time moments after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had grabbed a lifeline.

Monaco are also a formidable defensive force at home, having not conceded at all during the group stage earlier this season, and extended their unbeaten record at the Stade Louis II Stadium to 16 games with a 3-0 win over Bastia on Friday night.

Arsenal, though, have never lost in France, and Wenger sees no reason why his side – the FA Cup semi-finalists in fine domestic form on the back of Saturday’s 3-0 Barclays Premier League win over West Ham – cannot progress.

“Monaco is in a very strong position, but we have experience, the desire and belief we can do it,” said Wenger, who confirmed centre-back Gabriel Paulista had travelled after recovery from a hamstring injury.

“We want to give everything to have the greatest performance on the pitch. If we did not believe we could do it, we would not be here.

“The statistics are against us. The result in the first leg is against us. We are conscious about that.

“But no matter how big the percentage (chance) is, we have to give absolutely everything to make the stats lie, that is our desire and belief that we can do it.”

Since missing several chances in the first leg against Monaco and being substituted after an hour, forward Olivier Giroud has scored three in his last four appearances, including a fierce strike to open the scoring against West Ham.

Wenger has every confidence in the France international, whom he signed from Montpellier in the summer of 2012.

“Giroud actually owes the revenge to him. He owes a great performance for himself,” he said.

“He missed a few opportunities in the first leg, but what striker doesn’t miss an opportunity?

“He has the ability and the right mental level.”

Wenger was manager at Monaco for seven years, guiding them to the French league title in 1988 and also the French Cup.

Despite the air of sentimentality, the 65-year-old – who moved to Japan after leaving Monaco and on to Highbury in September 1996 – remains focused on the task at hand.

“For me, it is very special moment. I was a young coach here at Monaco, and stayed here for seven years,” Wenger said.

“I have a lot of respect for Monaco and want to thank the whole club.

“However, the experience I have gained can help me to make the right decision tomorrow, so I am able to separate the emotion of coming back and the importance of the game.

“I am here for work and my job is for my club to win.”

Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim will not allow his side any complacency in the second leg.

Jardim accepts his Ligue 1 side played the “perfect game” when securing an unexpected, but thoroughly deserved, victory at Emirates Stadium last month.

Portuguese coach Jardim, however, will not make the mistake of believing the tie is already won.

“I don’t think they underestimated us (in the first leg). We played a dream game, our perfect game, which is why the result ended up like this,” he said.

“However, we will approach the game the same way as all others – we are not thinking about the result itself, just playing the game.

“When you are facing such a team as Arsenal with players like Welbeck, Ozil, Cazorla, it is true we cannot take it easy.

“We need to focus and to play the same game we played in the first leg in order not to be in a dangerous situation.”

Jardim added: “We are at half-time (in the tie), but our opponent has such strong and quality players within their squad, so everyone knows this will be one of the most difficult challenges we have had for years.”

Midfielder Nabil Dirar insists the players have already put the euphoria of their victory in London to one side.

“We know nobody expected us to win at Arsenal away. We enjoyed the moment then forgot it because we knew the Arsenal team have quality players and can always make the difference,” he said.

“We know we might have a little advantage, but this will be a difficult game and we need to do our job to get the qualification.

“We need to remain focused, but must not just stay at the back (defensively) and show we fear them.

“They did not play well in the first game, but I think we will see the real face of Arsenal tomorrow.

“But we know how to play on the counter-attacks, so have our own strengths.”

Published: Monday 16th March 2015 by The News Editor

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