Arsene Wenger has expressed his opinion that the current Arsenal side are capable of beating defending Champions Barcelona in the Champions League (via Arsenal.com). The Gunners have been drawn to face the Catalan side in the Round of 16 in a repeat of the 2011 quarter-finals, and the manager believes that the team have a ‘good chance’ of going through this time around.
Back in 2011, Arsenal were eliminated in controversial circumstances as we lost 3-1 at the Nou Camp after winning 2-1 at the Emirates. Robin van Persie was sent off for striking the ball milliseconds after the whistle had been blown for offside, and the Gunners never managed to recover. Since then, the team has undergone a large number of changes in personnel, and although we have failed to progress beyond the Round of 16 in the past five years, Wenger thinks this might be the chance we are looking for.
Addressing the press conference today, he said, “We are more mature [than we were in 2011]. We played against Barcelona with top teams, but very inexperienced and very young. Barcelona were in full power but we still managed to beat them and it was always very tight.
“We have never been beaten [comprehensively] and we were sometimes unlucky as well. That is in our minds. That is deep in my body as well. I do not forget that. We have a chance, an opportunity to put things right, and we’ll focus on that.
“We are playing against a team that have the trophy and are the best team in Europe and I think we have a good chance to go through. It is a difficult challenge but an exciting one as well.
The first leg will be played in February, and Arsenal will be hoping to have key players like Francis Coquelin and Alexis Sanchez back in the side by then. Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in particular will be very important, since both have large amounts of experience with Barcelona. Provided that we manage to maintain our current form until then, we are certainly a much more capable looking and balanced side (our troubles in the group stage notwithstanding).
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However, Barcelona themselves are an extremely formidable opponent. They have the confidence and experience of defending champions, and their front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is frightening to say the least. The Catalans have also become a much more direct outfit compared to their days under Pep Guardiola, and are much faster and more efficient on the attack than ever before.
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It will not be an easy fixture by any means, and winning may ultimately prove to be beyond Arsenal’s grasp. However, we certainly have the quality to give them a run for their money, and our performance against Bayern Munich this season showed that we can dethrone anyone on a good day. Whatever the ultimate result, we will certainly get to see two great games of football at the very least.