Arsene Wenger came agonisingly close to leading Arsenal to their first Champions League title in 2006 only for Barcelona to stage a late comeback at the Stade de France
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Arsene Wenger has confessed he made a mistake with one of his substitutions as Arsenal frantically attempted to defend their narrow advantage in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona.
Sol Campbell had given the Gunners an unlikely lead towards the end of the first half despite Jens Lehmann receiving an early red card. The North London club saw out the majority of the second half, too, to leave themselves just quarter of an hour from their first Champions League triumph.
However, Barca equalised through Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti came off the bench to snatch victory for the Catalans and break Arsenal hearts.
Analysing the defeat, many fans suspected Wenger made an error in picking Robert Pires as the outfield player to sacrifice in the wake of Lehmann’s dismissal. However, the legendary former manager insists he stands by his decision to withdraw the winger for back-up goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.
“First of all you have to make quick decisions,” Wenger told beIN Sports as he reflected on the substitution. “At that time, Pires was born 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 (Alexander) Hleb, who was a hard-working type on the right-hand side and Pires on the left with (Freddie) 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.”
While Wenger vehemently defended his decision to take off Pires, he admitted his “mistake” came later in the game when he opted to take off Cesc Fabregas for Mathieu Flamini in a conservative midfield change.
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“If I made a mistake it’s not at that moment,” the 72-year-old continued. “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.”