LONDON, April 14 – Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal's love of the big occasion will help the Gunners overcome their injury crisis and sweep aside Villarreal in Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final second leg.
Wenger will be without centre-backs William Gallas and Johan Djourou for the Emirates Stadium clash, while goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is ruled out and French left-back Gael Clichy could also be sidelined through injury.
But Wenger knows his players relish the chance to strut their stuff on the sport’s grandest stages and the Arsenal boss is confident they can finish the job after last week’s 1-1 draw in Spain.
A win or goalless draw would sent Arsenal through to a last four meeting against Manchester United or Porto and, although they have endured a frustrating campaign marred by inconsistent form, the north Londoners always seem to impress when the stakes are highest.
They have already beaten European champions United, won 2-1 at Chelsea and claimed resounding European victories over Porto and Fenerbahce.
With Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor already in fine form after their recent returns from injury, Wenger expects another memorable display on Wednesday.
"We are feeling a little stretched. That injury to Djourou is a massive blow because we lost Gallas last week," he said.
"But we love the fact we have these big games coming up. There is tension but we like that because if there’s no tension, it means you are not going for anything.
"We know we are in a situation where we don’t want to be tentative at all."
Adebayor’s stunning bicycle kick at El Madrigal last week gave Arsenal a priceless away goal, but Wenger insists there is no chance he will send out the Gunners to play for a draw because it is not in their nature to be negative.
"We have scored that away goal so it could have an importance at the end of the day. But I don’t believe that we are a team who can play for 0-0, that’s not our natural way. If there are five minutes to go and it’s 0-0 even goal kicks make you nervous," he said.
"I personally don’t expect any weaknesses from Villarreal but I expect some strength from us to say, ‘listen, we have the opportunity to get to the semi final, let’s take it’.
"I am confident we will and we have the needed quality to do that. But you know from their game that they can be dangerous as well."
If the incentive of reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 2006 isn’t enough for Arsenal, Fabregas admits the chance to prove the critics wrong is an extra motivation.
Wenger’s side were widely written off earlier this season but Fabregas, back from four months out with a knee injury, says they spoke too soon.
"It’s quite good what we have done, but it is not enough. We want to go all the way," he said.
"We have said to ourselves we do not want to lose another game before the end of the season and that’s what we will try to do.
"Of course, we cannot say for definite that will happen. But that’s the aim, for sure. That has been our intention.
"We have done it during the past few weeks. We just need to keep it going for a few weeks more."
Villarreal, beaten by Arsenal in the 2006 semi-finals, will travel to London on the back of a 2-0 home defeat to Malaga, but more disturbing than the result for boss Manuel Pellegrini was an injury to Marcos Senna.
The Spanish international midfielder suffered a hamstring injury, while fellow midfielder Santi Cazorla is also sidelined and Pellegrini has named Cani and Mati Fernandez, who missed the Malaga match, in his 20-man squad.
Villarreal president Fernando Roig said: "The result means we have to score at least once in London but we always go out to win.
"These are the Champions League quarter-finals and everything is open, as has happened with Manchester United, who had been clear favourites against Porto."