Coach Wenger says ‘mature’ Arsenal can halt Barcelona march

London, Dec 17 (IANS) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says his team has matured since their last meeting with FC Barcelona in 2011 and thinks they have a “good chance” against the Catalan football giants when they face-off in the Champions League pre-quarterfinals.

Arsenal beat then Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s star-studded team 2-1 in the home leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, but lost 3-1 in the return match and were knocked out.

Wenger believes Barcelona, currently coached by Luis Enrique, will pose a big threat, but says his side has grown.

“We are more mature. We played against Barcelona with top teams, but very inexperienced and very young. Barcelona were in full power but we still managed to beat them and it was always very tight,” Wenger told arsenal.com.

“We have never been beaten (them comprehensively) and we were sometimes unlucky as well. That is in our minds. That is deep in my body as well. I do not forget that. We have a chance, an opportunity to put things right, and we’ll focus on that,” the veteran French tactician added.

“We are playing against a team that have the trophy and are the best team in Europe and I think we have a good chance to go through. It is a difficult challenge but an exciting one as well.”

Arsenal are currently second in the English Premier League (EPL) standings with 33 points, while leaders Leicester City are two points ahead of them.

Only three points separate Leicester, Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of the table. And Wenger stressed how important it is for the Gunners to take points off their main rivals this season, starting with Manchester City on Monday night.

“It looks to be very tight. We have played 16 games and the top team is on 35 points, so it means that the Premier League could be decided at around 80 points. If you look at the results it looks as though the consistency will be the main priority in this league because every week you are surprised by the results. We have really established a good run so for us it’s important to continue that,” the coach said.

“It is a massive game (on Monday). When we play at home you want to win because we are ambitious and we feel we have the chance to come out in a strong position after Christmas.

“It will be a very tight game because if you look at the numbers since the start of the season, offensively and defensively the numbers are very close. Manchester City have huge individual potential with David Silva and Sergio Aguero coming back and so we will need a top, top level team performance.”

He also praised Mesut Ozil, who has proved himself to be an “unbelievable player” for Arsenal this season.

The German international recently broke an EPL record by claiming assists in seven consecutive top-flight matches. Wenger says Ozil is one of the best creators in football but claims the playmaker’s hard work goes unnoticed.

“Ozil is the main provider in our team and in the league. He has 13 assists in the league. Players who can make you score are very difficult to find and have something special on the vision front and on the technical quality.

“That is what Mesut is about. But he is also about, and people forget this many times, in his way (he is) an exceptional fighter. He runs much more and covers the distances during the game. He has added runs into the box now. You watch how many times he’s in the box compared to what he did before. I think he has become an absolutely unbelievable player.”

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