Thomas Vermaelen knows Arsenal FC will have to go toe to toe with FC Barcelona in the Camp Nou next week if they are to continue one of the most unlikely comebacks of this season's UEFA Champions League.
Arsène Wenger's team looked to be heading out of the competition when Zlatan Ibrahimović struck twice early in the second half in north London, but two goals in the final quarter of the match breathed new life into the Gunners' campaign.
"It was a good comeback. We showed that we have been mentally strong this season," Vermaelen told UEFA.com. "Barcelona played well. They played their own game and created a few chances. It was difficult for us but if you go in at half-time 0-0 anything can happen."
Instead of building on their first-half escape, however, Arsenal were caught cold by Ibrahimović less than 60 seconds into the second period and, after the same player had doubled the deficit, it took late goals from substitute Theo Walcott and a Cesc Fàbregas penalty to keep their hopes alive.
Vermaelen had no doubt what had made the difference, saying: "After we went 2-0 down we were a little better physically. That was the change; we had more of the ball and there were more spaces on the pitch."
The Premier League club will nevertheless still be most people's outsiders to reach the last four for the second year running when the quarter-final concludes on Tuesday, although Vermaelen is remaining positive: "
There are better results if you play first at home but you have to believe as a football player. Anything can happen and we go there with the full belief we can win."
The powerful Belgium defender is also clear where Arsenal will have to improve in the Camp Nou, adding: "We have to do what we didn't do very well in the first half – close them down more in midfield and play a little higher up the pitch. We didn't show them too much respect, we just didn't close them down – we gave them too much space."
Arsenal satisfaction was tempered by injuries to Andrey Arshavin, William Gallas and, most crucially, Fàbregas, who left the stadium on crutches after going off on a stretcher late on. He was "hoping for the best but expecting the worst" when he has a scan on his leg on Thursday morning.
The Arsenal captain was nevertheless able to appreciate a memorable evening against the club where he started his career. "It was very, very difficult. These experiences help in life, but they were very impressive.
We were playing the best team in the world. We just couldn't get the ball off them."
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