Bernabeau baptism of fire for Walcott?

Last updated : 21 February 2006 By Chris Parry
Walcott is unlikely to start, but stands a good chance of coming off the bench at some point if Wenger feels that he can make a positive contribution.

The Boss says:

"I am not scared to put him in if it is needed. I don't think he will start the game but I have not taken him to please him, I have taken him because if there is some space there he can come on and take advantage."

Meanwhile he's expecting Thierry Henry to step up to the plate and deliver tonight:

"We need a big performance from Thierry in Madrid, that's for sure. We can't afford for him not to have one but we also need a good team defensive performance."

Our defence is severely depleted, and Wenger has explained why he was reluctant to gamble by bringing Ashley Cole back for this game:

"I could have taken a gamble on Ashley Cole, but he's only had one day's training. Last time I rushed him back he suffered a setback. When we started the season we thought our back four would be Lauren, Toure, Campbell and Cole yet we played nearly the whole of January and February without any of them."

Despite going into the game as underdogs, he's still upbeat about the way that the season is panning out:

"We rarely go into a game not being the favourites – and there are every few times in my career at any club when it's been like this, but it is a good test which I take in a very positive way.

"We have the basis of a great team, there is a good team dynamic and spirit. What this team needs is a big result – and it's down to us to believe how much we can do it. The good side of the difficult period that we are having is that the young players are maturing quickly.

"This kind of experience is worth six months of training. What the young players are doing is amazing and I'm convinced we are very close to becoming a strong team again. I can talk and talk but it's down to results. It's very important we are back in the Champions League again next season."