Arsene Wenger has boldly predicted a ‘magnificent’ performance from Arsenal and a defining night in the team’s evolution may indeed be required if they are to take a place in the Champions League final at Manchester United’s expense.
A John O’Shea goal separated the sides at Old Trafford but in truth the gulf between the two sides in the semi-final first leg was sizeable, to say the least. Only a combination of luck and some outstanding saves from Manuel Almunia prevented United from ending the tie as a contest.
But having only just clung on in Manchester against their far superior opponents, Arsenal welcome their great rivals to the capital with renewed hope.
The Gunners have gone 21 games unbeaten in The Premier League and are unbeaten in 24 Champions League games in North London. Indeed, they have not even conceded a goal at home in this season’s competition.
Added to their impressive statistics is the return to fitness of Robin van Persie, who missed the Old Trafford game but has been his side’s outstanding performer this season and is expected to lead the attack alongside Emmanuel Adebayor.
Mikael Silvestre will need a late fitness test on a groin problem, though, leaving Arsenal with real problems in defense as Gael Clichy and William Gallas are both missing. If Silvestre is ruled out then Johan Djourou will partner Kolo Toure.
Arsenal’s in-form Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin is cup-tied and Croatia international Eduardo da Silva is injured again.
United, meanwhile, may have let the FA Cup slip out of their grasp but look destined to win The Premier League for a third consecutive season and, with an away goal in the bag, will leave Arsenal needing to score three times if they can grab a goal at Emirates Stadium.
In their visit to the ground in November, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side lost 2-1 following two goals from Samir Nasri but an identical result would still see the reigning European champions progress to the Rome final for a meeting with either Barcelona or Chelsea.
Just as Arsenal have been cheered by news of Van Persie’s availability, so too United have welcomed the return to action of Rio Ferdinand, who injured his back in the first leg but has traveled with his team-mates to London. Patrice Evra is also expected to be fit after picking up a knock against Middlesbrough.
The Wenger v Ferguson head-to-head record is intriguingly poised at 15 wins apiece following the Old Trafford encounter and a night of high drama can be expected as both men seek to put one over their rival.
Ferguson has dredged up the memory of semi-final defeats to Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Milan to help inspire his side while Arsenal’s only previous encounter at this stage of the competition came in 2006 when they defeated Villarreal.
And while The Gunners have never lost a European semi-final – progressing on six occasions – Tuesday represents perhaps their sternest task and a defining battle in one of the most intriguing managerial rivalries of recent times.
The Arsenal players who will miss the final if they receive a booking are Van Persie, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Alex Song, while Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Evra must be careful for United.