‘We don’t fear Barcelona’ say Arsenal ahead of Champions League draw
Gunners prepare for last 16 pairings that could hand them revenge clash with Spanish giants
NOU CAMP, April 6, 2010. It shouldn’t be that hard to remember, it is only eight months ago after all.
Arsenal arrived in Barcelona talking about spirit, about resilience and about having got out of jail after recovering from 2-0 behind to draw the first leg of their quarter-final 2-2.
The Gunners then went 1-0 up in the second leg, 3-2 on aggregate. But just as the Arsenal hordes high up in the stands on the Spanish skyline were dreaming of a famous triumph, Lionel Messi took over.
So complete was Barcelona’s domination of the next 70 minutes that by the end Arsenal were almost praying for the final whistle.
Arsene Wenger did not try to hide from the truth afterwards, there were no hard luck stories. Arsenal had been outplayed by a better side for all but a fraction of two-legged tie.
There was no shame in that, of course. Barcelona may not have gone on to win the European Cup last season, but they are the best team in Europe, if not the world.
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Which is probably why, despite the undoubted glitz and glamour of two games against the Catalans, not to mention the Cesc Fabregas sub-plot, Arsenal will hope to avoid being paired with them in tomorrow’s Champions League draw.
Not that any of the Gunners players were admitting it, of course.
“It doesn’t matter who we get,” said Emmanuel Eboue. “If we play against Barcelona or Bayern or anybody we just have to play our football.
“We will just play the same way whoever we play against, we’ll give our best.”
Robin van Persie was of the same sentiments. “I would love to play against Barcelona,” said the Dutchman. “They would be two great games between two great teams.”
Arsenal’s inability to win their group means that Van Persie may get his wish – the Gunners can only play non-English group winners and that leaves just four possible opponents; Barcelona, Real Madrid and German duo Bayern Munich or Schalke.
Wenger also suggested that he doesn’t mind who Arsenal face, but you don’t need to be a magician to work out that he would prefer a trip to Germany than Spain next March.
Barcelona and Real, as usual, are streets ahead of the competition in La Liga and both breezed through the group stages.
Having added the mercurial talents of David Villa to their impressive armoury last summer, Barca are arguably a more complete side than they were last season.
They have won 13 of their 15 league games so far this season, scoring 46 goals in the process, and have won all seven of their away games. They are in imperious form.
Real and Mourinho were chastened by the 5-0 hammering in the Nou Camp, but have been no less consistent overall, with a perfect record so far in the Bernabeu.
Arsenal have won in the Spanish capital before, of course, when Thierry Henry’s strike secured a 1-0 win at this stage in 2006, the second leg finishing goalless at Highbury to send the Gunners through.
But much has changed with the galacticos since then, and Mourinho has added his usual defensive steel as he looks to win a Champions League title with an unprecedented third club.
In over three years at Chelsea, Mourinho was never on the losing side against Arsenal in eight meetings that included Cardiff triumphs in both the Community Shield and Carling Cup.
His Madrid side, like Barcelona, would take some beating. The German sides, especially Bayern, will be no soft touch either, but Wenger will be happy to avoid Spain for now.
If Arsenal don’t get Barcelona: They could get -
Bundesliga champions won their group with ease, winning five out of six including all three at home. Have struggled domestically this season, currently in sixth place
Star man: Arjen Robben
The galacticos have gone out at this stage for the last six years, but that was before the arrival of Jose Mourhino, who has lost only one game so far (5-0 to Barcelona)
Star man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Perhaps the easiest possible opponent, Felix Magath led them to second in his first season, but they are 10th this time. Topped a group that included Lyon and Benfica
Star man: Raul
The Champions League last 16 draw takes place on Friday December 17 at 11am. Live on SkySports and the Uefa.com website