Arsene knows...

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Over the last decade, Arsenal fans have grown fond of saying that Arsene Knows.

Admittedly, the phrase loses currency when the Gunners get ‘tatered at White Hart Lane or Old Trafford, but when Arsenal get it right on the pitch it’s seen as evidence of the Frenchman’s Knorr-like know-how. And this week he’s certainly given off the air of a man who – to use the vaguely threatening northern phrase – “knows summat you don’t”.

Perhaps he did. After a fortnight in which Arsenal were sent reeling out of the FA Cup by Manchester United, lost Eduardo in gut-wrenching circumstances and saw their Premier League lead cut from five points to one, few gave them a chance at the daunting home of the European champions.

Wenger wasn’t down in the dumps, though. For a man often derided as morose, he spent the days before the Milan match as upbeat as Keith Moon.

Told that his players were too inexperienced to survive the San Siro coliseum against snarling pit-bulls like Gennaro Gattuso and polished medal-collectors like Paolo Maldini, Wenger seemed content that youngsters know no fear.

Informed that striking spearhead Emmanuel Adebayor hadn’t scored in his 14 Champions League appearances for Arsenal, Wenger replied “He will in the 15th”.

Warned that the goalless first-leg draw at Ashburton gave his side no advantage to defend, he replied that they could play their natural game: “We have nothing to protect, but we know we want to score goals. We know we have to do both – to defend and attack, like in any normal game we want to win.”

And win they did, Wenger’s fluid 4-4-1-1 formation proving solid yet a springboard when Arsenal attacked at pace. Mathieu Flamini, once a utility man regarded indifferently in the stands but dissuaded by Wenger from leaving last summer, continued to display the indefatigable form that has kept Gilberto from the team; few of those terrace know-alls would have believed Flamini could keep Kaka in his pocket, but Wenger trusted the young Frenchman against the World Footballer of the Year.

Ahead of the game, Wenger had asked his men – average age 24.2 – to be “dynamic, mobile and technical,” all keystones of the ethos he has constructed.

It won’t be easy to replicate the Milan performance from the quarter-final onwards. Although experienced, the Rossoneri’s backline was also ageing and perhaps more susceptible to Arsenal’s naked pace than any surviving Champions League participants. And the trouble with making a splash is that you can attract the attention of sharks.

But then, in all probability, Arsene knows that.