Javier Mascherano interview: 'Infectious' Alexis Sanchez can be key for Arsenal like Luis Suarez at Barcelona

The Gunners are set to host the Catalan giants in the Champions League round-of-16 next week at the Emirates

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Alexis Sanchez arrived at Barcelona the summer after they had won Pep Guardiola’s second Champions League at Wembley. And he left the season before they were triumphant in Berlin. Winning just one league and one domestic cup, his three-year spell can seem like a relative failure but don’t try telling Javier Mascherano that. 

“I think he delivered in the time he was here," the Argentine says. “He was very involved. Maybe he just needed the challenge of having a greater part to play in another team and that is why you can understand the change. But he gave us a lot in his three years.

“Now he has a huge role to play for them. He is crucial to what they do. He is someone whose aggression and attitude is infectious and runs through the team. He transmits so much.”

The description makes him sound a lot like the player who replaced him at Barcelona? “Yes. Totally there is a touch of [Luis] Suarez. He is a fighter. A player who never gives up a single ball for lost. Someone who regardless of how he plays is always going to give absolutely everything. And that is fundamental for any team.”

Barcelona are not taking Arsenal lightly. Mesut Ozil is another who will be well known to them on Tuesday. The German played 17 assists in the 2011-12 season when Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid beat Barça to the title.

“Ozil is key and you notice more and more that everything revolves around him,” says Mascherano. When everyone is fit they have a very good midfield with Coquellin, Cazorla and Ramsey. And they are always competitive even when, year after year, they were losing important players and had to rebuild. In the last two years they have raised their competitive level, especially against the big sides. It’s a difficult opponent because they always play to their strengths. They want to have the ball and they want to attack. They are not going to change the way they play because they’re facing Barcelona.”

And as he knows only too well how close they came to upsetting the odds in 2011 when at 4-3 a late away goal from Nicklas Bendtner would have put Arsenal through to the quarter-finals.

It was 'you-know-who' appearing from nowhere robbing the Dane and directing the ball back to Victor Valdes that saved Barcelona.

“That tackle marked a before and after for me that season, in terms of my adaptation,” he says. “The first months were not easy. I found it hard to adjust to the club and to the way the team played. I played that game in midfield. But from that game on I started to play as a centre-back. If Bendtner had controlled the ball and gone the other way he would have gotten away from me. But it happened the way it happened and we ended up winning the Champions League that season.”