Arsene Wenger claims Arsenal have closed divide with Barcelona
Arsene Wenger today warned Barcelona that Arsenal are desperate to prove the divide between themselves and the greatest team in the world has vanished.
The rivals meet in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie at Emirates Stadium tomorrow night in an eagerly-awaited repeat of last season's quarter-final.
Arsenal were humbled 6-3 on aggregate, losing 4-1 at the Nou Camp after Lionel Messi plundered four goals and escaping with a 2-2 draw at home.
The encounters pointed to a gulf in class but Wenger insisted that over the last 12 months the Gunners, who welcome back Samir Nasri from injury, have been transformed.
"We don't deny the quality of Barcelona, but what is important for us is we have a good opportunity to show who we are now," he said.
"Not only that, we also want to show Barcelona we are capable of knocking them out.
"We have the belief and a strong togetherness to show we are a different team now.
"In the first half of the home game last year we were spectators a little bit and were a bit inhibited.
"I believe that confidence-wise and mentally we are a completely different team today.
"We have made our way forward by challenging in the Premier League and we are still in all competitions.
"If you look at the predictions pre-season, nobody in England predicted we would be where we are today.
"We have made our own way through our own strength and mental belief.
"Losing to Barcelona made us better because we came out of the second game with a lot of frustrations after missing the turning point when we were 1-0 up.
"We are now a stronger team because we have attitude and I have not seen many teams with such consistent focus every day.
"We are in an ideal condition to face Barcelona. We cannot complain, we have the belief, the confidence and the players available.
"We want to show how good we are. We want to show the belief we have in our game and in our quality."
Wenger stated that disposing of the Spanish champions - the second leg is in Barcelona on March 8 - will offer a tantalising glimpse of Champions League glory.
"We want to win this competition and we know the only way to do that is to beat the super-favourites," he said.
"Barcelona are certainly the best team in the world at the moment.
"If we knock Barcelona out, we straight away have a good chance to win the tournament."
After being crushed over two legs last season, it has been suggested Arsenal may have to change their approach to contain the competition's favourites.
But Wenger insists they can prevail with their high-tempo attacking game.
"Everybody expects an exciting match because we are two teams who play quality football," he said.
"Tomorrow we want to be faithful to our philosophy, to make sure we dominate the game, that we pass the ball and that we have possession of the ball.
"If we do that, we have a very good chance of beating them."
Arsenal welcome back Nasri from a hamstring injury sustained on January 30 while Tomas Rosicky has recovered from a groin problem, but Diaby is out with a sore calf.
Nasri, the club's top scorer this season with 14 goals, trained this morning and could start the first leg.
"Samir is in the squad and the starting line-up will be decided tomorrow," said Wenger.
"I will take no medical risk. It's good to have him in the squad.
"He's recovered quicker than expected. I said it will be 21 days but it will be only 17 days.
"Everybody's absolutely adamant that he's completely medically available. It's down to me to make the decision."
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