Arsène Wenger will have to figure out a way to stop Barcelona’s sensational front line on Tuesday; in the meantime he has admitted to wondering what he might have started had he signed one of them in 2013.
He tried then to secure Luis Suarez for Arsenal, only for Liverpool to stand firm in a contentious transfer saga. The Uruguayan striker went on to fire an extraordinary 2013-14 title challenge at Anfield before moving to the Nou Camp. Wenger admits he used to have “what if” thoughts.
“Not now”, he said when asked if he regretted not getting Suarez. “It happened to me before but not now.”
And the greatest value Suarez brings? “Camaraderie – I believe Suarez gives that to a team,” Wenger added.
“He did it at Liverpool, he did it playing with Uruguay with [Edinson] Cavani and [Diego] Forlan and did it well. Suarez is the kind of guy who manages to create that spirit in teams. I believe that apart from the individual talent the three [Barcelona forwards, Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar] have, they have a good understanding and cohesion. They have a great solidarity.
“I have seen that Cristiano Ronaldo said that Messi passed the ball to Suarez at a penalty last week because he wanted him to be the top goalscorer. When you see someone like Messi give the ball to Suarez when he had the opportunity to score his 300th goal, that means there’s really something in there.”
It also illustrates that they are having a lot of fun together, as Wenger put it.
“It looks like it. But honestly, it is fun to play football, don’t forget that. They don’t look to play under any pressure because they know at the moment it’s easy for them.”
One eventual consequence of Arsenal not getting Suarez was that they ended up a year later with Alexis Sanchez, signed from Barça in 2014. The Chilean forward looked a little rusty when he came on after 67 minutes in Saturday’s goalless FA Cup fifth-round tie with Hull City, but Wenger was confident he would be ready for the Champions League first leg against his old club.
“I don’t think he was completely ready to come on [against Hull] but he grows with the game. He has a game based on risk and so when he’s not completely, completely highly tuned in it becomes dangerous. Don’t worry about Tuesday; he’ll be tuned in.”
Arsenal and Hull will learn today when they must fit their replay into an already packed calendar for both teams. Uefa’s ruling that games in the primary cup competition cannot take place on the same night as Champions League fixtures means the two cannot meet on 8 or 9 March.
Arsenal are reluctant to visit the KC Stadium on Monday 7 March, two days after a crunch Premier League derby away to title rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The replay could yet take place on the weekend of 12 March, when the sixth round is scheduled.
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