By Rob Kelly in Barcelona
“In the Champions League at the moment we have a very small chance but let’s give our best on Wednesday - you never know.” - Arsene Wenger
For a man with a degree in economics, it should come as no surprise that Arsene Wenger likes to dig deep into the numbers behind each situation he faces.
By the manager’s analysis, his side’s prospects of beating Barcelona by the two goals
It is a daunting prospect - and the rest of figures do not make for any easier reading for those of an Arsenal persuasion.
In the four games since their 2-0 win at the Emirates last month, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side have scored 17 goals. They are 37 games unbeaten in all competitions, have won 12 matches in a row and their famed front three have 103 goals between them.
But while the odds may be stacked against the Gunners on Wednesday night, it is not within Wenger’s make-up to give up.
After all, he has said many times that the reason we love sport is for its unpredictability, its capacity to shock - and he insists his side can pull off the unexpected if everything falls into place.
“I believe that the key for us will be a solid defensive performance,” he said. “The advantage in our position is that the task is clear - we have to attack.
“We will do that but with the magicians of Barcelona will have to make sure that we give a remarkable defensive performance.
|Barcelona: Pique (suspended), Rafinha (knee) Arsenal: Cech (calf), Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (thigh), Cazorla (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (leg)|
“We fought very hard to be in the Champions League. We made a miracle [against Olympiacos] so now we are in a position where we have to deliver something special. I’m convinced that for the rest of the season, it would be a big boost for us to have a great game here.
“At the moment, we are not favourites - we deal with that. But no matter how big the chance we have is, I think the Premier League is quite open, much more than people think it is. In the Champions League at the moment we have a very small chance but let’s give our best on Wednesday - you never know.”
Wenger will have to cope without the likes of Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Nou Camp, but there was good news with the return of Laurent Koscielny to the squad.
The France international was a fine form in the first leg, and often reserves his best performances for the very biggest stages - and they don’t come much bigger than an away day at the Nou Camp.
“It is important because he has experience in the Champions League,” Wenger added. “He is a pacy player and Barcelona are good on the counter-attack so it is important to have players that can deal with that.”
ONE TO WATCH
While Petr Cech’s absence with a calf injury is undoubtedly a blow, it has been considerably cushioned by the form of his replacement, David Ospina.
The Colombia international has had to wait patiently for his chance but, since his return to the team for the north London derby at Tottenham, he has been flawless.
Two magnificent stops at White Hart Lane were followed up by a fine double save in the FA Cup replay with at Hull City, while he could do little about both goals in Sunday’s defeat at Watford.
Ospina is pleased with his form, and insists he has no fears about facing the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar on Wednesday night.
“The truth is that it is a challenge, a nice, important challenge,” he said. “We know that we are going to be playing against an excellent team, but we are here to fulfil our plan.
“We also have excellent players and we hope we are going to be able to play well and continue to advance in the Champions League.”
For all the talk of Barcelona’s famed front three, Wenger is a particular admirer of a player reaching the end of a majestic career - Andres Iniesta.
|Arsenal are unbeaten in their last three away games in the knockout stages of the Champions League (W2 D1) Only one team has beaten Barcelona by at least two clear goals at the Nou Camp in the Champions League in the last 12 seasons; Bayern Munich in May 2013 (3-0) Arsenal and Barcelona's eight previous Champions League encounters have produced 29 goals, an average of 3.6 per game|
The 31-year-old captained the Catalans in the first leg at the Emirates, producing another silky performance to allow the visitors to control possession.
While Arsenal have a number of threats they will need to snuff out if they are to pull off ‘mission improbable’, they should not ignore the danger that Iniesta poses as he orchestrates the game from midfield. “Iniesta is one of the greatest players Barcelona have produced,” Wenger said.
“He was actually in the academy with Mikel Arteta - he was a young player when Arteta was here and Mikel told me that at that time everybody in the academy thought, 'If he doesn’t make it, we have absolutely no chance'.
“From a very young age he was a top, top talent and he has justified that. He has never got the Ballon D'Or because he was always a little behind Ronaldo and Messi but for me he is one of the greatest players produced by Barcelona.”
Don't miss the digital match programme for Arsenal v Hull City, on sale now for just 79p and packed with exclusive interviews and interactive features.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Copyright 2019 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.