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Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 12:27 UK

Arsenal 'must triumph in Europe'

Uefa Champions League, Semi-final first leg
Venue: Old Trafford Date: Wednesday, 29 April Kick-off: 1945 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC London 94.9 FM, DAB and online plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website. Also live on Sky

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Flamini 'still an Arsenal fan'

By David Ornstein
BBC Sport in Milan

Ex-Arsenal star Mathieu Flamini feels the Gunners must end their four-year trophy drought this season to ensure their potential does not go to waste.

Arsene Wenger's men are out of contention for domestic honours but face Manchester United for a place in the Champions League final.

"It is important Arsenal win something this season," Flamini told BBC Sport.

"They deserve success because they have worked so hard and have great quality - I feel they are capable of big things."

The AC Milan midfielder played an integral role in Arsenal's run to the 2006 Champions League final, where they were 1-0 up against Barcelona with 14 minutes remaining but ended up losing 2-1 at the Stade de France.

Mathieu Flamini and Paul Scholes
Arsenal showed they are capable of beating Manchester United in the Premier League so why not in the Champions League?

Former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini

They fell at the first knockout round in 2007 and the quarter-finals last year, and one of the reasons Flamini gave for joining seven-time European champions Milan was to improve his chances of winning the competition.

But with Milan playing in the Uefa Cup this season, the 25-year-old has been keenly monitoring his former club's progress to the last four.

"I've been supporting them since the beginning, not just now they have reached the semi-finals," he said. "I believe in this team and know they have a lot of quality."

Flamini faced United on eight occasions and was involved in the Gunners sides which won home and away in 2006-07 and drew 2-2 at home the following season.

But the teams meet in Europe for the first time, with the first leg at Old Trafford on Wednesday and the return in London on Tuesday 5 May.

Earlier this season Sir Alex Ferguson's team struggled to deal with Arsenal's slick passing and intelligent movement as the hosts won 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium, a result Flamini believes Arsenal will be able to draw confidence from.

"Arsenal showed they are capable of beating Manchester United in the Premier League so why not in the Champions League?" said the midfielder, who joined Arsenal from Marseilles in 2004.

"The important thing is to play their football. They have to feel free, play like they know they can and enjoy it because it's not every day you play a Champions League semi-final.

"Arsenal must try not to not concede a goal in the first leg at Old Trafford. And with the quality they have in their team they will always have chances to score before going back to the Emirates.

606: DEBATE
goldarsenalforever

"They need to play with freedom but they have to keep it tight at the back at the same time. I'm sure they will be OK. If they play their football they have a great chance to win it."

Encounters between Arsenal and United have never been for the faint hearted.

The Gunners' 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in 1990 was marred by a mass brawl, which led to both teams being deducted points, and many believe that incident set the tone for future encounters.

In 2003 the Football Association suspended four Arsenal players and fined the club £175,000 for failing to control their players after Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

Relations between the two clubs reached breaking point in 2004 when Ferguson was allegedly splattered with pizza by a member of the Arsenal camp after United ended the Gunners' 49-match unbeaten run.

Samir Nasri
Samir Nasri scored twice when Arsenal beat Man Utd in November

And a year later Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane were involved in an infamous bust-up in the tunnel before United's 4-2 victory at Highbury.

"I learned very quickly what Arsenal versus Manchester United means," said Flamini in 2007. "I had been at the club only a few months when everything happened at Old Trafford in that famous (2004) game.

"I can also vividly remember being in the tunnel at Highbury before the game when there was the trouble between Patrick and Roy Keane. That was incredible - we hadn't even reached the pitch!

"For Marseille, we used to have a big rivalry with Paris St-Germain and, at Arsenal, there is always the history of Tottenham. But it became clear to me very early on that Arsenal and Manchester United have a special kind of rivalry."

But now at Milan, Flamini is able to put past differences aside and reveals how Keane has influenced his career.

"For me Roy Keane was amazing," said the Frenchman. "He was a strong character and an amazing football player. He showed me it was important to have great character on the field but also to play great football.

"When you play for the top clubs you need to play great football and at Arsenal we played amazing football. Now I have a chance to play for Milan and here you have to play the same way. That is important if you are going to be a top football player.

"I watched Keane on TV and videos and also had the chance to play against him. He was an amazing guy, strong in both his head and on the pitch. It was amazing to play against him."

Flamini is planning to watch Wednesday's game with another former Manchester United midfielder - his Milan team-mate David Beckham.

"We talk a lot, especially now Arsenal are playing Manchester United in the Champions League semi-finals," said Flamini.

"He's a huge fan of United, I will support Arsenal and we will have a bit of banter about the tie. But we are good friends and he is a great person. We haven't watched a game together yet but I think we will do for that one."



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see also
Ferguson worried about away goal
28 Apr 09 |  Europe
Man Utd v Arsenal
28 Apr 09 |  Europe
Dixon on Man Utd v Arsenal
28 Apr 09 |  Europe
Mathieu Flamini interview
23 Apr 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger transfer policy under fire
17 Apr 09 |  Arsenal
Arsenal need to strengthen - Dein
01 Feb 09 |  Arsenal
Arsenal promise cash for signings
28 Nov 08 |  Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Man Utd
08 Nov 08 |  Premier League
Wenger targeting new midfielder
23 Jul 08 |  Arsenal
Flamini seals switch to AC Milan
05 May 08 |  Arsenal
Arsenal 2-4 Man Utd
01 Feb 05 |  Premier League
Man Utd 2-0 Arsenal
24 Oct 04 |  Premier League
Arsenal sign Flamini
22 Jul 04 |  Arsenal
Arsenal players banned
30 Oct 03 |  Arsenal
Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal
17 May 06 |  Europe


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