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It's a knock-out


Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

Arsene Wenger believes that the gap between his side and Barcelona has narrowed since the Spanish champions knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League last season.

A year on from that chastening encounter, Arsenal go into tonight's first leg of the round of 16 tie at the Emirates with their manager insisting that they are a mentally stronger team now.

In last season's quarter-final, Arsenal were humbled 6-3 on aggregate, escaping with a 2-2 draw at home and then losing 4-1 at the Nou Camp as Lionel Messi plundered four goals.

Those encounters pointed to a gulf in class, but Wenger insisted that over the last 12 months Arsenal, 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.

"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.

"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. We are now a stronger team because we have attitude. 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."

Arsenal welcome back Nasri from a hamstring injury sustained on January 30, while Tomas Rosicky has recovered from a groin problem, but Abou Diaby is out with a sore calf.

Nasri, the club's top scorer this season with 14 goals, trained yesterday and could start the first leg. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent