Former Arsenal boss: Players have to believe in Milan miracle
Can Gunners overturn four-goal first-leg deficit? They have to think they can, says Terry Neill
Former Arsenal manager Terry Neill is hoping Arsenal’s resurgent Premier League form can give them hope of springing one of the biggest upsets in European football history on Tuesday night.
Neill was left speechless as Arsene Wenger’s side recovered from going a goal behind to win at Anfield on Saturday, following hard on the heels of the miraculous 5-2 north London derby win over Spurs.
That made it 12 goals in their previous two home outings – following the 7-1 rout of Blackburn Rovers – and the 71-year-old believes Arsenal’s old passing game has finally returned on the lush Emirates surface.
Next up in N5 are mighty AC Milan, the seven-times Champions League winners who are 4-0 up from the first leg of the last 16 clash. But miracles do happen, says Neill.
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“Before the game in Milan I was actually very confident that Arsenal could beat them over two legs,” said Neill.
“It is a massive mountain to climb, but you have got to believe otherwise you may as well pack up and go home. If you don’t believe you can’t do anything.”
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Belief seems to have returned with those back-to-back league successes that have put Wenger’s side within touching distance of Spurs who are just four points ahead now in third place. Now Neill says they are capable of unsettling Milan with a similar display.
“If that performance against Spurs doesn’t give them confidence and belief I don’t know what will,” adds Neill, who spent a decade at Highbury as a player before returning as manager – via Tottenham – in the summer of 1976.
“It is now up to Arsene Wenger, Pat Rice, Boro Primorac and Robin van Persie to try and convince the players they can run Milan close. The Italians will have watched the north London derby and been impressed, believe me.
“I don’t expect Milan to come to north London and attack. They’ll sit back whatever the result from the first leg. But I also don’t think Arsenal should go gung ho. We can have possession, get our passing game going, and take it from there.”
But with the pursuit of a top four place taking precedence over a virtually impossible Champions League dream, would Neill forsake some of his better players with important league games coming up over the next few weeks?
“No, absolutely not. I would play my absolute strongest XI on Tuesday without a shadow of a doubt,” he says. “You have got to keep the faith and give yourself the best possible chance. Even if they don’t go through they can still win – and win well – and put on a great performance for the fans.
“The pressure is off them because few would expect them to overturn a four goal deficit.”
One Italian newspaper described Arsenal as “unwatchable” in that first leg, while many reports described it as a “massacre”.
Wenger admitted he would never forget the humiliation at the final whistle and reportedly tore into his team at London Colney the next day.
Neill, 71, hopes those who played at San Siro will be stung into action in the second leg.
“You always want to atone for your errors. I think that is, generally, a basic human reaction. I hope those players remember what happened out there and want to make up for it,” adds Neill.
“I’d even like to think Rob the Arsenal chef would want to run out on that pitch in his whites and have a go. This is a time for everybody at the club to show some fight and go for it... if they give their best, who knows?”
NOT SO MIGHTY MILAN
Back in 2004, holders Milan looked all but assured of their place in the Champions League semi-finals after humbling Spain’s Deportivo La Coruna 4-1 in the first leg at San Siro.
However, in the second leg they went 3-0 down at half-time in Spain, and conceded a fourth goal in the second half to crash out 5-4 on aggregate. Miracles do happen.