With Roma's extraordinary comeback against Barcelona fresh in the mind, Arsène Wenger said there will be no complacency among his Arsenal players as they take on CSKA Moscow with a healthy 4-1 lead from the first leg and desperate to reach their first European semi-final in nine years.
Wenger described the remarkable events in the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday, where Roma won 3-0 to go through on away goals, as a “good warning” for Arsenal, who find themselves in exactly the same position as Barcelona were in before the second leg and determined to avoid similar ignominy.
With the Europa League now the priority for Arsenal by virtue of the fact that winning the trophy is their only realistic chance of qualifying for the Champions League, Wenger will not take any chances in Moscow and is set to recall six players who were rested for the 3-2 win against Southampton on Sunday, even though his team are in a commanding position.
“The best way to build on the advantage is to try to win the game, so we will play with our best possible team and have a positive attitude,” said the Arsenal manager, who revealed Granit Xhaka will be absent with flu.
“We are in a position where I don’t think we are under threat of complacency. It is an important target for us to go as far as possible [in the competition]. Tuesday night [in Rome] may be a good warning for us but let us not go overboard as well. Yes, we have a big job to do but we are in a strong position and it is how we approach the game that will be vital.”
For all their toils this season, Arsenal arrive in Moscow in good shape. Wenger's side have emerged from the "negative spiral" Laurent Koscielny talked about before the game in Milan last month, when four successive defeats left them in a tailspin, to put together their best run of the season. The restorative victory at San Siro that followed Koscielny's remarks heralded the start of a six game winning sequence that has delivered 18 goals, lifted confidence and put a few smiles back on faces.
Yet there is still no getting away from the fact Arsenal’s season will be defined by what happens in the Europa League. Asked whether his own future also depends on success in the competition, Wenger did his best to avoid the question. “The Europa League is important for us, everyone knows that,” he replied. “We are at a stage where we focus on it because in the Premier League we have a very, very, very slim chance to move further up, so the Europa League is one of the big targets now.”
The game against CSKA, who have failed to win any of their past six home fixtures against Premier League opposition, takes place against a backdrop of political tension between the British government and the Kremlin, and only 300 or so Arsenal supporters have made the trip.
“Sport can always play a positive role in life and between countries as well,” Wenger said, when asked about diplomatic relations. “I am convinced that [tonight] will be absolutely normal and the World Cup will be perfectly well organised. I have no problem about that.”