Arsenal, Barcelona expect memorable contest
Friday, December 17, 2010
Josep Guardiola and Arsène Wenger have high hopes that the round of 16 tie between their FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC sides will be as spectacular as last season's quarter-final.
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Josep Guardiola is anticipating two "very special" games when FC Barcelona renew acquaintances with Arsenal FC having eliminated the English team from last season's UEFA Champions League in a memorable tie.
Guardiola's side came out on top when the clubs met in the 2009/10 quarter-final, Zlatan Ibrahimović scoring twice in a 2-2 first-leg draw in north London. Although the Gunners took an early lead at the Camp Nou, Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona's eventual 4-1 success, the No10 getting all of the hosts' goals to become only the sixth player to hit four in a game in the modern UEFA Champions League.
Barcelona also beat Arsenal in the 2006 final in Paris and have never lost to the English outfit in five meetings, but Guardiola sounded a note of caution ahead of the first leg at the Arsenal Stadium on 16 February. "Last season we played a great couple of games which was down to the similar style of football both teams play; this time it's also going to be very special," the Blaugrana coach added. "We will have to wait and see how the teams are doing when February comes around because our respective form at the moment isn't important in terms of the tie."
Last term's defeat of Arsenal ended a run of five home matches without a win against English opponents for Barcelona, whose coach recognises that registering another victory will not be straightforward. "Arsenal haven't got a single bad player, in fact they have several excellent ones like [Samir] Nasri, Cesc [Fàbregas] and [Marouane] Chamakh," Guardiola continued. "They might not be winning trophies lately but they are always up there with the best. From what I've been seeing they are continuing to play well with their distinctive style. They force you to be on top of your game defensively. If you are not at your best they can steam roller you."
While Guardiola has only crossed paths with Arsenal last season, Arsène Wenger has been in charge for all five encounters between the clubs – starting with a 1-1 draw at Wembley and 4-2 defeat in Spain in the 1999/2000 first group stage – and knows exactly what to expect. "My reaction is very simple – difficult but possible," he said. "All teams would have been difficult. But the advantage is that we will be on our toes and we'll be ready. Revenge is not on my mind. We want to qualify and we want to knock them out. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Yes.
"Barcelona are certainly the favourites [for the competition] and a famous team but, on their side, they did not want us either because they know they will get a game," Wenger went on. "We're better than last year and we have a good opportunity to show that. It's too early to speak about this game concretely. The whole context might be completely different in two months. We don't know what we will do and how we will feel. But the best way of going into that game with confidence is down to what we do from today until then. If we do well in the league, the FA Cup and the League Cup that will give us the best chance of knocking them out."