Arsene Wenger remains adamant he didn’t make a mistake by substituting Robert Pires in the 2006 Champions League final, but has finally admitted he did make one tactical error that cost his side victory.
The legendary former Arsenal manager was just 13 minutes away from landing his Holy Grail, but a late comeback and two goals in the closing stages robbed Wenger of claiming the prize he coveted more than any other.
Arsenal went into the game against a Ronaldinho-inspired Barcelona as heavy underdogs and their task was rendered even more difficult when Jens Lehmann was dismissed for a professional foul on Samuel Eto’o after just 18 minutes.
Wenger was forced to withdraw one of his outfield players in order to press reserve goalkeeper Manuel Almunia into emergency action, and his decision to sacrifice Pires still rankles with the former France international, whose Arsenal illustrious Arsenal career was effectively ended there and then.
Reflecting on the decision, Wenger remains adamant he made the correct, albeit heart wrenching, decision, given the players that remained on the pitch came so close to securing glory.
He told beIN Sport: ‘No not really, honestly no. First of all you have to make quick decisions. At that time Pires was boring in 1973 and we were in 2006, against Barcelona you know at some stage you have to defend.
‘Pires was an offensive player, a very offensive player. Up front we had Hleb who was a hard working type on the right-hand side and Pires on the left with Ljungberg as well.
‘I had to decide is it Hleb, Ljungberg or Pires and at the end of the day I thought I keep the guy on the pitch who has the most energy.’
Wenger did, however, concede he made the wrong call with his penultimate substitution when, with his side clinging to the 1-0 lead they had held for nearly an hour thanks to Sol Campbell’s header, he replaced Cesc Fabregas with Mahtieu Flamini.
Goals from Eto’o and Juliano Belletti in the closing stages helped Barcelona complete a remarkable comeback and left Wenger crestfallen.
He added: ‘If I made a mistake it’s not at that moment. It was later in the game. In the end with 15 minutes to go I took Flamini on for Fabregas out because I wanted to defend the lead.
‘Maybe I should have brought a third centre back in at that time and keep the midfield as it is, take Hleb out and put a centre back in and to try to defend as long as we could because there was only 13 minutes left.
‘Sometimes with 10 minutes to go you just want to get your team over the line and focus on that so overall I would say many people question the change of Pires but if you had to play the game again it is not exactly what I would change.’
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