Arsene Wenger insists that his Arsenal side do not fear Barcelona, instead suggesting that it is the Spanish champions who would rather not be facing the Gunners in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.
Having failed to win their group, a tie with one of the favourites, namely Barcelona or Real Madrid, was always possible for the 2006 finalists.
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Wenger correctly predicted the situation on Thursday, when he stated his belief that Arsenal would face Barcelona for the second successive season.
The Frenchman recognises Barcelona’s strength, but firmly believes his side are good enough to progress.
“My reaction is simple – difficult but possible. Barcelona are certainly the favourites [for the competition] and a famous team but, on their side, they did not want us either because they know they will get a game,” he said.
And Wenger believes that Barcelona are just one of the tricky opponents that his team could have drawn.
“All the teams would have been difficult. You could have said that Schalke – a team with less history in the Champions League – would have been easier maybe. But the advantage is that we will be on our toes and we’ll be ready.”
Barcelona’s 6-3 defeat of the Gunners came at the quarter-final stage last season and was widely seen to be a comfortable victory, with the outstanding Lionel Messi netting four times at the Nou Camp.
Wenger, however, remembers that his side led 110 minutes into the two-legged tie before Messi’s intervention, and asserts that his side have improved since the defeat.
"I think we are better than last year and we have a good opportunity to show that. I won't come out on [how we will make it a different game]. What is on my mind right now is Stoke more than Barcelona.
"We are in the middle of December and we play at the end of February. So there is a long way to go.
"It is too early to speak about this game concretely. You can just speak about the draw. The whole context might be completely different in two months. We don't know what we will do and how we will feel.
“The best way of going into that game with confidence is down to what we do from today until then.”
By Greg Lea
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