Champions League, last 16, first leg
Kick-off: 19:45 (BST)
Almost a year on from having their Champions League ambitions crushed by Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, Arsène Wenger believes Barcelona will encounter a much-imrpoved Arsenal when the sides contest the first leg of their round of 16 tie on Wednesday.
“Barcelona are certainly the best team in the world at the moment,” said Wenger. “If we knock them out we straight away have a good chance to win the competition.
“You can look at it and say we have a good opportunity to show we are not the team who played against them last year. We have the belief and a strong togetherness and a highly motivated group to show that we are a different team and it’s a good opportunity for us to show that.
“Everyone expects an exciting game because it’s between two teams who play attractive football. We have a very good chance to beat them. In the first half of the home game last season we were spectators a little bit and inhibited. Mentally we are a completely different team now. We are challenging in all competitions and at the start of the season nobody in England predicted we would be where we are.
“We just want to show how good we are. We want to show the belief we have in our game, in our quality, more than looking at the past. We have practised. We are determined, focused and we want to win this competition. We know we face the super-favourites of this competition but the only way to do it is to knock them out.”
Wenger confirmed that there is a possibility that midfielder Smir Nasri could start tonight after the Frenchman made a quicker than anticipated return from a hamstring injury. Diaby misses out with a calf problem suffered playing for France last week, while long-term absentee Thomas Vermaelen (and the suspended Bacary Sagna are also out.
Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola, who is expecting an entertaining encounter over the two legs, spoke of his admiration for his Arsenal counterpart.
“Both teams are playing really well and play attractive football,” he said. The common interest of each team is to try and create many chances. They attack more than they defend and I think that’s what both teams will do tomorrow.
“We can’t overlook their quality. Arsenal have always played in a particular away and that’s why they have signed the players they have. Any player that plays for Arsenal moves the ball very well. Walcott has good moments and Wenger is an incredible coach – I admire his style and way he likes to play football. I have a lot of respect for Arsenal. I have an idea about them because of both games we played against them last season but many players have changed and Van Persie is now having a big influence.
“I think we will see two very good games. I love watching Arsenal play but I don’t like playing against them. They are very strong but also have weaknesses. We need to move the ball quickly and that’s what we’ll try to do.
“We know that scoring away from home in Europe is vital so we will try to play our way; we are Barcelona. It’s inevitable when you play in Europe that teams can surprise you but I prefer teams that let you play.”
Barcelona will be without influential skipper Carles Puyol.
“We will miss Puyol, he’s our captain, but now we have to play with someone else,” said Guardiola. “You get injuries from time to time so we’re not going to complain.”