Sunday 21 January 2018

Bullish Wenger dares Arsenal to believe in 'resurrection'

Glenn Moore

Now Arsenal no longer have even one Song, do they have a prayer? That was the question being raised by Gunners fans last night after Alex Song, who they serenade with the chant, "One Song, we have only one Song", did not travel to Barcelona for tonight's Champions League quarter-final second leg.

The increasingly influential Cameroon midfielder has been being ruled out with a knee injury. He becomes Arsenal's fifth significant absentee after Cecs Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas.

"It was a bad surprise, I wanted Song available," said Arsene Wenger. "He had a scan on his knee and has an inflamed cartilage."

Song had been pencilled in for one of two key roles -- holding midfielder, or makeshift centre-half. In either position he would have found himself dealing with Lionel Messi. Denilson will take the midfield role, alongside Abou Diaby, but the identity of Thomas Vermaelen's defensive partner will depend on Sol Campbell's fitness.

The veteran defender will face Messi et al if he and Wenger believe his stiff hamstring is up to it. "Frankly, if Sol declares himself completely fit he will play," said Wenger.

Since Campbell was unable to complete training yesterday, managing only the warm-up, his availability must be in doubt. Mikael Silvestre, who has been a bit-part player since his surprising move from Old Trafford in 2008, is the likely deputy.

Despite his injury problems, a defiant Wenger insisted that his players were ready to achieve what many feel is mission impossible.

"We have to focus on the team performance," he said. "If we do not win the ball, and give them the ball at the Nou Camp, no matter who plays centre back, he will have problems."

Arsenal, said Wenger, were overwhelmed last Wednesday because they were inhibited, and sat off their exalted opponents. "We have to get a bit tighter in our marking," he said. "They played at a higher pace collectively."

Wenger, who has been trying to impress upon his players that Barcelona are only human, added: "We have learned from the first game that it is important we start with full power, without any inhibition."

Wenger concluded with a rare rallying cry. "Life is about grabbing opportunities, this team can make history by grabbing their opportunity. This team has character, and when you have character you always have hope. With character and quality you can fight anywhere in the world.

"People have written us off, but we're halfway through and will give a good game to Barcelona. It's Easter you know, a time of resurrection."

Wenger's logic appears sound, albeit tinged with the kind of optimism symptomatic of his position as a disciple of the Church of Good Football. With 21 minutes of the first leg remaining, Wenger was close to accepting that his side were going out, only for his players to surprise him by dragging themselves back into a quarter-final that is, at 2-2, very much alive.

Irish Independent

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