Wenger Reflects On An Amazing Night At The Emirates
By Jonny Payne.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reflected on his team’s performance in the Champions League quarter-final last night and that of their opponents, Barcelona, who he describes as an “outstanding team,” but he insists that Arsenal can win in the Nou Camp to qualify for the semi-finals.
Arsenal were given a footballing lesson for much of the first half by a Barcelona team that attacked from the first whistle, but Wenger praised the performance and character of his players for not capitulating.
“I must first say that we played against a great team who was dominant in the early part of the game. That’s where we were lucky because they had early chances,” he said. “We gave them too much room to play. But I must say I give a lot of credit to my players because we kept in the tie at 2-0 against a team like Barcelona. If you have no mental strength you can go down to 5-0 but we came back to 2-2. The only regret I have tonight is the way we gave the two goals away. We were lucky to be 0-0 at half time but I am convinced that had we not given those two cheap goals away we would have won the game.”
Wenger added: “They are an outstanding team but I believe that most of the shots on goal they had were in the first part of the game. We were in a position at 2-0 when you play against a great side and you have to throw everything forward. You know you can be caught with another goal.”
Despite being outplayed for most of the match, Wenger is confident his young players can stand up to the challenge that lies ahead in the daunting Nou Camp, he said: “It would be a big achievement but I believe we can do it.”
The Arsenal manager has singled out Theo Walcott as a key player for the second leg after an impressive cameo appearance against the Champions League holders.
“I believe that when we win the ball back we always looked dangerous against them. Especially using some weaknesses that we have exploited quite well tonight. We have to go for that…He [Walcott] had a huge impact when he came on and I am very happy about that. I found it absolutely fantastic. He has qualities which can be useful on a big pitch like the Nou Camp,” said Wenger.
Although Arsenal go into next week’s return on level terms, they may be severely weakened as William Gallas (calf), Andrei Arshavin (calf), Gael Clichy (ankle) and Cesc Fabregas (knee) all picked up injuries during the match. Wenger had gambled with the fitness of Fabregas and Gallas ahead of the match and it backfired as both players could well be out for at least a couple of weeks, although it is still too early to tell the full extent of their injuries. Questioned on whether he had rushed the pair back too soon, Wenger said:
“I don’t know. At the end of the day you have to trust how the player feels and you trust your medical people. There was nothing wrong medically, they told me, and he [Fabregas] had a test this morning and said he was ready to play. I haven’t spoken to him yet because he has an X-ray – we have to check nothing is wrong with him.”
The Arsenal manager added: “William has a calf strain. He will be out for a while now. Again, I took a gamble that didn’t pay off. I can say yes, I regret that now.”
Fabregas was booked long before his injury meaning he would have missed the trip to his home town anyway, and Wenger praised his attitude to keep going despite knowing he would not be able to play in the second leg.
“He is fantastic. His mental strength… he didn’t give up. I believe the whole team was mentally unbelievable tonight because we kept going and kept going and kept going against an opponent that is class. But I am still convinced we can make life difficult for them in the second game. We have a chance to qualify,” he said.
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