Arsene Wenger bullish over Arsenal's European hopes

Arsene Wenger has challenged his Arsenal side to set themselves up for a showdown with one of the European heavyweights by staying on course for domestic success.

The Gunners beat Partizan Belgrade 3-1 at Emirates Stadium last night, finishing the game with 10 men after Bacary Sagna's late dismissal, to secure their place in the draw for the knockout stage.

However, after finishing as only runners-up to Shakhtar Donetsk - whom they had thrashed 5-1 at Emirates Stadium earlier in the Group H campaign - the Barclays Premier League leaders will now face either one of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, or one from German duo Bayern Munich and Schalke.

Arsenal were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Barcelona last season, but Wenger believes if they are paired again, then next year could be a whole different ball game.

"Let's be realistic, Barcelona are the super favourite at the moment," Wenger said, "but we take what we get and if it is Barcelona, it is Barcelona.

"It depends whether you have your best players available, whether we have a good level of confidence then.

"It is very difficult to predict how far you can go.

"In the last 16 it becomes a different competition, a cup competition and that means for 180 minutes you have to be at your top."

Wenger added: "Overall we are in a strong potion in the league, we are qualified in the Champions League, we are in the semi-final of the Carling and we start the FA Cup in January. There are plenty of exciting challenges in front of us, but there is room for improvement and I am confident we will.

"When we play now in the last 16 hopefully we have done well in the Premier League and the Carling Cup and we can have a high level of confidence because that will be needed."

After a lacklustre start, Robin van Persie fired the home side ahead from the penalty spot for his first goal of the season, only for Brazilian striker Cleo to net a shock equaliser on 52 minutes.

Substitute Theo Walcott volleyed Arsenal back into the lead with man-of-the-moment Samir Nasri sweeping home a third before Sagna was shown a red card for a professional foul with five minutes left.

"It was bit of a low-key game because we didn't find out pace or openings in their defence," Wenger said.

"But I felt we had the resources to score and in the last 20 minutes they would drop a little bit physically."

Van Persie netted his first goal of an injury-hit season, and feels Arsenal are growing in confidence.

"If you don't have belief you'd better stop playing football. We do believe," the Dutchman said.

On potential last-16 opponents, he added: "As a football fan, Barcelona or Madrid, but we will see."

One sour note for Arsenal was an injury to full-back Kieran Gibbs, which saw the England defender replaced after 23 minutes, and he will be assessed later today.

Partizan coach Aleksandar Stanojevic was pleased with his team's efforts despite finishing their Champions League campaign with no points.

"We had some good moments in all the matches, but made too many mistakes against quality opponents, which is why we finished bottom," he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor