Arsenal need to banish the
inconsistency that has dogged their season if they are to earn at least a draw
with Real Madrid and reach the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.
A famous triumph over the most successful club in European football beckons for
Arsene Wenger's side after their hugely impressive 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu
two weeks ago.
Talismanic skipper Thierry Henry scored the away goal that could yet see Arsenal
through to only their third appearance in the last eight and there was more for
their fans to cheer on Saturday.
Fulham are a world away from the Galacticos of Real Madrid but the stylish way
Arsenal tore them to shreds in a 4-0 drubbing, courtesy of two well-taken goals
by Henry, was a sign of real confidence.
However, Arsenal's season has been very much a stop-start affair and their
Premier League finish is destined to fall well short of the club's high
standards after 10 defeats has left them fifth in the table.
Five points adrift of neighbours Tottenham Hotspur in a race to finish fourth
raises the very real prospect of UEFA Cup football for their first season at the
new Emirates Stadium.
Defensive lapses and a failure to impose themselves in midfield, due in large
part to the pre-season departure of Patrick Vieira to Juventus, have robbed
Wenger's side of all chance of domestic silverware.
The Champions League can yet salvage Arsenal's season, though the same is
largely true for Real, 10 points behind Primera Liga leaders Barcelona and out
of the King's Cup.
Real put a week of turmoil behind them following Florentino Perez's shock
resignation with a gutsy and determined 2-1 win over city rivals Atletico Madrid
New president Fernando Martin's decision to crack the whip and make it clear
that he required more commitment from the players appeared to pay dividends with
a morale-boosting win.
Even better for coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro was the performance of Antonio
Cassano, making his first league start after Ronaldo was dropped.
The Italy striker scored Real's opener and his first league goal with a great
header and was a constant menace with his darting runs off the ball and his
fighting spirit up front.
With Ronaldo back in the squad to face Arsenal, Lopez Caro must choose whether
to use Cassano or the Brazilian, though he could opt to play both as they seek
to turn around the tie.
Julio Baptista, Robinho and Raul are also available, while combative midfielder
Thomas Gravesen should get the nod over the more creative Guti to shackle
Arsenal's quick-breaking forwards.
Zinedine Zidane looks to have recovered from a bruised thigh and should line up
on the left, with David Beckham on the right.
Brazilian forward Baptista, who Arsenal wanted to sign in the close season, said
the victory over Atletico would give Real renewed confidence.
"We needed the win to calm everyone's nerves," he said. "Although we know it
will be difficult we are now going to win in London. We are heading there with
our spirits high."
Real lost their last game on English soil 4-3 to Manchester United in 2003, but
won the tie 6-5 on aggregate.
Ronaldo hit a hat-trick and was given a standing ovation by the Old Trafford
crowd. Beckham, who scored twice for United in his last European game before
moving to the Bernabeu, makes his first return to England in Real Madrid colours.
Arsenal: 1-Jens Lehmann; 27-Emmanuel Eboue, 28-Kolo Toure, 20-Philippe Senderos,
16-Matthieu Flamini; 8-Fredrik Ljungberg, 13-Alexandr Hleb, 19-Gilberto,
15-Francesc Fabregas, 9-Jose Antonio Reyes; 14-Thierry Henry
Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas, 2-Michel Salgado or 11-Cicinho, 4-Sergio Ramos,
15-Raul Bravo, 3-Roberto Carlos; 23-David Beckham, 14-Guti, 16-Thomas Gravesen,
5-Zinedine Zidane; 8-Julio Baptista or 10-Robinho, 9-Ronaldo or 19-Antonio
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)