Arsenal’s task against AC Milan at Emirates Stadium tonight is of substantial proportions, but progression is not necessary.
It is not necessary in terms of momentum, nor is it necessary due to the warm fuzzy feeling that has currently settled over the Gunners in north London.
The thrashing they were handed by tonight's opponents in the San Siro could be described as a European nadir for an Arsene Wenger team, though this season it would be necessary to bunch it with a number of other disastrous days.
The following whimpering defeat on Wearside only compounded the appearance of haplessness in Arsenal ranks and many were ready to write off Wenger’s men once more this season.
Only the difference was the proximity of this latest collapse to crunch time for this term, which meant the latest condemnation was to the soundtrack of a bell toll.
The red side of north London were finished, done for and would inevitably be put out of their misery by the other half of north London’s football territory.
Consider where they were then and jump forward where the French tactician’s team are now – it is a remarkable turnaround for a team written off so completely.
A relishing retort to Tottenham’s recent dominance in the league was followed by a fortunate win at Anfield, although their fortune was gilded by the quality of their new Dutch master and captain Robin van Persie.
The past two fixtures were similar only in the effort required to come from behind to snatch victory – the manner in which they were achieved bore stark differences.
Now they will have to complete the ultimate comeback if the Champions League quarter-finals are to be visited; they will have to defeat the current champions of Italy by five goals to win.
This prospect could be disheartening for many, but it is testament to the reaction of Wenger’s charges that the three weeks since the Milan mauling have produced the kind of atmosphere where the Arsenal boss is openly talking about overhauling an enormous deficit and isn’t being widely ridiculed.
Of course, there is strong whiff of a nothing to lose mentality, but the fact that conversations are being had about whether the visitors can be defeated by an equal or greater margin, rather than if they can be beaten at all, is almost staggering.
Progression to the next round is highly unlikely and the aim of tonight’s game must not be to secure it; qualification can only be the product of what they need, which is another quality performance.
It is a chance to prove that they are not the chumps they have been billed as all over Europe since they were rightly pummelled by Milan, so the objective must be to restore some continental pride.
The four goal obstacle may be insurmountable, but they must be constantly aware of it, if only to use it as an example of how far they have progressed since then.
A two-legged tie means that the loss will always be hanging over them and it is how they choose to view the loss that can determine the relative success of their evening.
Arsenal need only win in a dominant manner for tonight to be deemed a success.
Then the 4-0 that is residual from their first-leg embarrassment can be held up next to a victory to say: “Look, this is what we were, but today is what we have become”.
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