William Gallas insists Arsenal FC are ready to take on any of Europe's leading teams in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round after the English club had to settle for second place in Group H.
The 2006 finalists kept up their part of the bargain by beating FC Steaua Bucureşti 2-1 in London on Wednesday, but Sevilla FC's fifth victory of the campaign at SK Slavia Praha preserved the Andalusian side's two-point cushion at the top of the section. Consequently, Arsène Wenger's men must face Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, FC Internazionale Milano or FC Porto – all of whom won their groups – in the last 16.
'A great team'
For the Arsenal captain, however, the prospect of playing one of the tournament favourites holds little fear. "I would have preferred to finish top but we're second and if we have to play Barcelona or Madrid then so be it," Gallas told uefa.com. "Whoever we get will be a great team but I feel we can give anybody a game." Midfielder Abou Diaby sounded equally bullish, saying: "We enjoy the big games. Every player wants to be involved in matches against the likes of Madrid or Milan. It's very exciting and whoever we play, it'll be a great occasion."
Diaby had marked his return from injury with a fine all-round display that included scoring his first European goal. "It was a good game for me to come back in, because the pressure was off a little," the 21-year-old Frenchman explained. "I felt good from the start and the goal gave me even more confidence." Of his eighth-minute strike, a clinical right-footed finish after collecting Bacary Sagna's cross, Diaby said: "I guessed Bacary was going to cross to the near post so I made a run and the gamble paid off. I haven't scored many goals in the past and this is something I'm trying to improve."
Nicklas Bendtner added Arsenal's second shortly before half-time and though Dorel Zaharia's 68th-minute reply made the closing stages more uncomfortable for the hosts, Gallas says the victory was richly deserved. "We were determined to put in a big performance after losing at Middlesbrough [FC on Sunday] and we certainly did that in the first half," said the France centre-back. "The second half was not so good because the intensity of our play dropped, but we did what was necessary. The main thing was to get back to winning."
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