Arsne Wenger says his Arsenal team are approaching the knockout stages of Champions League "with more belief" than in recent years.
Tonight, they take on his former side Monaco in the last 16 first-leg tie at the Emirates and, after playing Barcelona, Milan and Bayern Munich, on two occasions, at this stage in recent years, it is understandable that Wenger is feeling more confident.
But despite that, the Frenchman - who was in charge at Monaco for seven years from 1987 to 1994 - is taking nothing for granted. "You never know. It is always a question of circumstances and potential," he said. "Barça or Bayern would have been favourites, but we have to deal with what we get. We didn't do that very well over the last four years, so this is an opportunity for us to do better."
Arsenal have become part of the furniture in the Champions League knockout stages. Unusually for Arsenal, at this stage of the season, they appear to be a team on the up after a difficult start, rather than riding high, nervously waiting for the crash.
But to go one better than their best in the competition - a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in the final in Paris in 2006 - is, Wenger admits, harder than ever. "Now it is more difficult than 10 or 15 years ago because there are more candidates. Certainly there are more in England. But it is still a cup competition.
"That means belief, commitment and being in a good period [of form] when you play the game. We feel as a team that we are on the way up and we can use the Champions League to confirm that."
Monaco come to Arsenal with the likes of Joao Moutinho and the familiar face of Dimitar Berbatov. The former Tottenham, Manchester United and Fulham striker fully understands the challenge that awaits his team, but is confident they can progress.
"We know it is going to be a difficult game and we will be the underdogs, but we came for a good result, have prepared well and hopefully we can achieve it," he said. "I spent a couple of years here and have told my team-mates this will be a tough game. Being back here is great for me, playing in this stadium. I have had some good moments here, scored a couple of goals, and also had some bad moments.
"It is nothing new to me. I know the games, I watch them on TV, Arsenal are playing very well. They are a team who work a lot of passes, try to play the combinations, football the way it should be played. They play on the counter with quick players, very technical."
(© Independent News Service)
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