Arsene Wenger says goal is to stifle Barca’s attacking threat

Arsenal manager puts the onus on defence in advance of Emirates Stadium clash

Barcelona’s Luis Suarez  and Neymar will pose a real threat to Arsenal’s defence  at the  Emirates Stadium.  Photo:  Adam Davy/PA

Barcelona’s Luis Suarez and Neymar will pose a real threat to Arsenal’s defence at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

 

Arsene Wenger says he is convinced Arsenal will score in the first leg of their Champions League tie against Barcelona but has also admitted the priority has to be to keep out the threat of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, saying an away goal for the reigning champions would represent a “knife in your heart”.

Wenger conceded Barcelona would be “super favourites” and also made the rare admission it was possible his team may simply be “played off the park” by the side who won a treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey titles last season.

His own team have failed to score in four out of their last seven games, but Wenger believes the secret to Arsenal’s hopes of eliminating the holders rests on their defensive structure and making sure they don’t leave themselves vulnerable at the back.

“I think we will score so I am not too concerned,” he said. “It’s true that recently our goals have dried up a bit and we have to find a way to get that going again. But I am more concerned about stopping them from scoring because at home in the Champions League 0-0 is not a bad score.

“We have always made it difficult for ourselves in previous years by conceding goals at home and the rules of the modern European Cup encourage teams to defend at home and attack away because of the importance of the away goal.

“Many times I have said that should be suppressed because if you concede a goal at home in the Champions League it’s a knife in your heart every time. Against big teams it becomes very difficult.”

Wenger, who expressed concerns Alexis Sanchez may be too wound up and potentially not “in the right zone” against his former club, is prioritising the importance of a clean sheet for the return leg at Camp Nou on 16 March.

Arsenal have gone out of the Champions League at the first knockout stage in each of the last five season but Wenger will not switch to a more defence-minded team.

“It’s against my nature,” he said. “I cannot go into a game and think I will just play for a zero-zero. I don’t believe you can say you are a big club and just want to defend . . .

“We have to try to score against them because if they have a vulnerability, like us, it is defensively, as it is with any offensive team.”

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will wave his wand over the ‘Chosen Ones’ – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – to make sure they weave their magic tonight.

Asked what he does to get the best out of the trio, arguably the most dangerous forward line in world football, the former Barca midfielder joked that they made his job fairly easy.

“I tell them ‘abracadabra‘ and the magic sparks, that’s all I do,” said Luis Enrique with a laugh.

Unbeaten run

Barca, bidding to become the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan achieved the feat 26 years ago, take a 32-match unbeaten run into the first leg at the Emirates.

Messi (15 goals), Suarez (25) and Neymar (18) have scored a combined 58 times in La Liga to put Barca eight points clear at the top. Enrique, however, is just as keen for them to show off their defensive attributes.

“ We also depend on the pressure they put on up front to get the ball off the opposition,” he said.

While many top clubs rotate their strikers, Messi, Suarez and Neymar are rarely given a breather by Barcelona.

“They never rest, or stop playing, but if they didn’t play they wouldn’t like it that much,” said midfielder Ivan Rakitic.

“They are like children when they play football. It would be like taking the ball away from them if we didn’t choose them.”

Guardian Service

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