LONDON - Arsenal are physically and
psychologically stronger than a year ago and can knock Barcelona
out of the Champions League at the Nou Camp next week, their
French playmkaer Samir Nasri said on Thursday.
"I think we have become more macho and we have all stepped
up from last year," he told a media briefing at the launch of
the official match ball for the May 28 final at Wembley.
The France forward said he was convinced Arsenal would make
up for last season's 6-3 quarter-final defeat by "the best team
in the world" and reach the last eight again.
They have given themselves a chance of making progress after
coming from behind to beat the Spanish champions 2-1 in the
first leg of their last-16 tie at the Emirates Stadium on February 16.
Although the 23-year-old forward conceded Barcelona start as
favourites to advance, he said Arsenal's players were no longer
intimidated by the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres
Iniesta, the creative forces in Pep Guardiola's glittering team.
"We approached the game differently this year. Last year we
were a little scared of Barcelona because they are fantastic and
play amazing football and we were surprised how good they were.
"This year we said, 'Look, they are fantastic and if we lose
to them it will be normal because they are the best team in the
world.' So there was no pressure on us and we played our normal
game and showed everyone we can beat them and be at their level.
"We are more macho, physically and psychologically, Some of
us, like Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, even myself, we have all
stepped up. "We are stronger. All of our players can compete
with all of theirs."
Nasri was sitting in the dressing room at Wembley Stadium
where the disconsolate Arsenal team returned after their shock
2-1 defeat by Birmingham City in Sunday's League Cup Final.
He said that setback had not dented their self-belief as
they, along with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, attempt to
become the first London side to lift the European Cup.
Chelsea host FC Copenhagen in their last-16 tie after a 2-0
win in the first leg in Denmark while Spurs are 1-0 up against
AC Milan after winning their opener in Italy.
Nasri knows the path he would like Arsenal to take to
surpass both of their London rivals.
"If we beat Barcelona, I would love to play one of the other
London clubs in the final and I want Arsenal to be the first
club from London to win the Champions League.
"But my dream would be to play against Marseille in the
quarter-finals, then Tottenham in the semi-finals, then Chelsea
in the final," he added.
Olympique Marseille were held to a 0-0 draw by Manchester
United in their first leg in France.
"I want Marseille to beat Manchester United. It would be
special for me to play against Marseille. I was born there, I
grew up there, I played for Marseille for 10 years and it's
something I would love to do."
Before that though, Arsenal need to get past Barcelona and
Nasri is under no illusion just how hard that task will be, even
though he is very optimistic it will happen.
"More important than stopping Xavi or Iniesta is stopping
Lionel Messi," he said before giving his assessment of
Argentina's talented World Footballer of the Year.
"He can make the pass, he can dribble, he can score. You
cannot stop him. If you say to someone follow him for 90
minutes, you cannot do it because he has such quality.
"Something will happen, he can make the difference by
himself. He is now playing as a striker, so he can go into the
middle, he can turn, he has the space, he has the freedom.
"But we are confident we can beat them. We did it at Emirates Stadium and we know they will play the same type of game. We
know it will be really difficult but don't forget even if we
draw, we qualify."
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