One year on and Van Persie gives Arsenal hope of earning revenge

Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

All the talk before and after this match was about Barcelona's visit here on Wednesday, but during it Arsenal's players remained focussed on the task in hand, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Which was just as well because for all the attention surrounding this week's Champions League tie, come May Saturday's Premier League game may well prove to be the more important.

Arsenal can beat Barcelona – they are playing well and, as Arsène Wenger said "are in better shape" than when they met last year – but the truth is they are not likely to. Their prospects of winning the Champions League itself are so slim that mainstream bookmakers are offering 20-1.

The Premier League is a more attainable goal, especially if Arsenal go out of Europe and Manchester United progress. That would ease Arsenal's fixture list and enhance their chances of catching the leaders. Had they lost to Wolves however, as United did the previous week, they would now be seven points adrift. "We knew before the game that United had won [against Manchester City]," said Jack Wilshere. "We needed the three points and we got them. Now we can concentrate fully on Barcelona."

Two Robin van Persie goals secured Arsenal's victory. That took his tally to 12 this season and Wenger pointed out that when Arsenal met Barcelona last season, when the London club were knocked out at the quarter-final stage, Van Persie was injured.

"It took him some time to come back into form [this season], but now he is at his best," said the Arsenal manager. "We go into the game in better shape than last year, and Robin is part of that. Then the team had less confidence. We have matured better, we can certainly compete technically better with them. We will try to play to our strengths. We will try to attack.When you play a team like Barcelona you need all 11 to be at their best. It will be interesting – do we play with belief?"

A good question given Wilshere, who does not lack confidence and delivered another mature display on Saturday, said Arsenal might have to adapt their approach.

"We've got to change our game a bit," he said. "We need to get in their faces and win the ball back, if you like, be a bit nasty with them. We have to press them as a team."

This, as Wenger noted, is something Barcelona do well, though typically his concern was how Arsenal evade that pressing rather than how they replicate it. "If we can get out of that pressure then I think we can be dangerous," he said.

Wenger indicated Samir Nasri may be available, but with the rest of his offensive players fit it seems unlikely the Frenchman will be risked. Wenger admitted: "I would not rule it out but I will not take a crazy gamble. Physically he is ready, but is there the risk of a setback. He will have tests Monday and Tuesday."

One person who seems certain to play is Wilshere. Last week's first international start underlined his potential but Barcelona will provide a further test of his development."It's been a brilliant week for me," he said, "probably one of the best of my life. I will never forget that England game but now it's important to push on and just think about Arsenal for now. I watched Barcelona playing in La Liga and I watched Xavi and Iniesta just run the games. That's what I want to learn from and do myself. It will be great to play against them."

There was a warning, however, from Wolves manager Mick McCarthy. Having admitted his team were "absolutely pumped" he said: "All over the park they were better and stronger than us. Like any defeat I feel sore but you have to admire the class they have. But it could be someone else having a chastening experience here on Wednesday." Who? He was not saying.

Europe watch

Barcelona prepared for their Champions League trip to Arsenal this week in stumbling fashion, failing to win in La Liga for only the third time this season as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Sporting Gijon on Saturday. Pep Guardiola's (above) side, who last week recorded a record 16th successive league victory, went behind to David Barral's first-half strike before David Villa equalised with 10 minutes left.

Scorer: Arsenal Van Persie 16, 56.

Subs: Arsenal Chamakh 7 (Van Persie, 71), Bendtner 6 (Arshavin, 71), Denilson 6 (Wilshere, 77)

Booked: Wolves Zubar.

Man of the match Wilshere

Referee C Foy (Merseyside)

Att 60,050.