Gunners can't fear Barca - Wenger

BY foxsports • February 12, 2011

Ahead of the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash at the Emirates, Arsenal manager Wenger believes his team have learned from the beating handed out by the Spanish champions. The Gunners drew the first leg of their quarter-final 2-2 but were totally outplayed by a Barcelona side, especially in a one-sided first half. The north London club were then dismantled by Lionel Messi in the return leg at the Nou Camp, the Argentinian grabbing all four goals in a 4-1 victory which only served to highlight the gulf between the teams. Wenger said: "I can't deny we showed them too much respect last season, especially in the first half of the first game." That is something of an understatement. At times in that first match - in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice for the Spaniards with the Gunners replying through Theo Walcott and a Cesc Fabregas penalty - Arsenal appeared to be frozen with fear. They could not handle a side playing the same fluent passing and moving game they adopt week in and week out in the Premier League. Wenger, however, is not daunted by the prospect of again facing a Barcelona side, who have already defeated main rivals Real Madrid 5-0 this season in La Liga. The Frenchman recognises Barca's quality but he also believes his own side have come of age. "It's a disadvantage for them to play us as well," said Wenger. "We know from last season's games that what is most important is to play at our level. Barcelona are maybe better this season than last season but so are we. That will make the game even more interesting." The problem for Wenger is bridging the gap in class and experience between two teams who play a similar style. Barcelona's passing patterns in the centre of the pitch, where Xavi and Andres Iniesta are supreme, are the result of years of fine-tuning. Central defenders Gerard Pique, who has a tendency to dive into tackles, and Carles Puyol frequently swap sides during a match. Meanwhile full-back Daniel Alves forms a potent attacking force on the right while left-back Eric Abidal tends to be more conservative as the team keep sides guessing. And there is always the threat of Messi who already this season has enjoyed a run in which he scored in 10 consecutive games, including a friendly for Argentina against Brazil. Last week Barcelona, seven points ahead of Real in La Liga, broke the Spanish record for the most consecutive league wins with 16 victories after they defeated Atletico Madrid 3-0 at the Nou Camp with Messi scoring a hat-trick. Afterwards Messi said: "It's an honour to be able to pass a record set by a great like (Alfredo) Di Stefano. If the record has been around for so long it is because it's very complicated to achieve and we have reached it by defeating a very difficult team." This season Messi has scored 40 goals in 33 matches and is credited with 18 more assists for team-mates. That is the size of Arsenal's task and the statistics are not on their side either. Not only did they lose 6-3 on aggregate to Barcelona in last season's quarter final they have yet to beat the Spanish side in five attempts, drawing two and losing three, including the 2006 Champions League final.

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