Walcott switches focus to United
Published 09/12/2010 | 16:05
Theo Walcott would love to show Barcelona just what Arsenal can do should they meet again in the Champions League next year - but knows Arsene Wenger's men must now concentrate on delivering a top performance at Old Trafford.
The Gunners secured their place in the last 16 of Europe's elite competition once again with a somewhat laboured 3-1 win over Group H whipping boys Partizan Belgrade at Emirates Stadium, ending the game with 10 men after Bacary Sagna's late dismissal.
However, as they could only finish runners-up to Shakhtar Donetsk - whom they had thrashed 5-1 at home earlier in the qualifying campaign - Arsenal will not be among the seeds for the knockout stage draw which takes place in Nyon, Switzerland next Friday.
Given domestic rivals Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham all won their respective groups, that means the Barclays Premier League leaders will now face either of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid or one from German duo Bayern Munich and Schalke.
Walcott was part of the Arsenal team ripped open by Lionel Messi in their quarter-final second leg in the Nou Camp during April, where the England forward had put the visitors ahead.
While Walcott feels were the two sides to face off again it would be a very different prospect, the 21-year-old accepts focus must first be on getting a positive result from their top-of-the-table domestic showdown with United on Monday night.
"If you want to be the best, you have to play the best," said Walcott, who came off the bench against Partizan to make his 150th Arsenal appearance and give the Gunners a 2-1 lead with a well-taken second-half goal before in-form Samir Nasri netted a third.
"We want to go that one step further - if we do get Barcelona, we don't want Messi to do what he did to us last season.
"I would love to go back there and show them what we are all about this season.
"We want to win silverware for the fans because they have waited too long.
"We have improved - new personnel have come in and we have players coming back from injury soon.
"It doesn't matter to us, we will play anyone and try to win the game."
Walcott knows getting the better of Sir Alex Ferguson's men at Old Trafford will be no easy task, despite Arsenal's impressive away form.
"United have not lost in the league yet, so hopefully we can be the first to do that," he said.
"Manchester United are not playing the best, but these are the games where they will step up.
"Yet if they are not playing well and still are second in the league, then we don't want to catch them on a good day.
"But we have just got to go there and play with no fear, express ourselves and then the best performance will come out.
"We need to get something there and the way we are playing away from home, we can beat anyone."
It remains to be seen whether captain Cesc Fabregas will have recovered from his latest hamstring injury to face the Red Devils, with the Spain midfielder insisting he would take no risks by coming back too soon.
Left-back Kieran Gibbs badly twisted his ankle last night, leaving Emirates Stadium on crutches, and the England international faces another frustrating spell on the sidelines.
Wenger could elect to hand Robin van Persie a second successive start at Old Trafford after the Dutchman - back to match fitness following his own ankle problems - produced an impressive display against Partizan, scoring a first goal of the season from the penalty spot.