The Gunners look set to miss out on the Champions League quarter-finals once more but the Barca centre-back has warned his teammates not to underestimate his former club
Thomas Vermaelen has urged Barcelona not to underestimate his former Arsenal team-mates when the sides conclude their Champions League last-16 tie at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Holders Barca secured a 2-0 advantage during the closing stages of a keenly contested match at Emirates Stadium three weeks ago, with Lionel Messi netting a late brace.
Luis Enrique’s men are chasing their 10th consecutive home win in Europe’s premier competition but, despite the fact Arsenal appear to be on course to once again miss out on a quarter-final berth they were last able to claim in 2010, Vermaelen is taking nothing for granted.
“It won’t be an easy game at all,” the Belgium defender, who swapped north London for Catalonia in August 2014, told Barcelona’s official website.
“Although we have a small lead, you can never say that they are out. They have very quick players and that makes them dangerous. We’ll need to concentrate.
“It is two different team [who are] very similar in the way they play. They look to play a passing game and keep the ball on the ground. They don’t go for long balls.
“It would be incredible to win [the Champions League] again but there’s still a long way to go. There are lots of games left and we’ll have to work hard if we want to do it.”
While Barca are sitting pretty at the top of La Liga, Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge has floundered on the back of three winless outings.
The pressure on long-serving manager Arsene Wenger was further increased by a shock FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Watford on Sunday.
Per Mertesacker underlined the fine margins Arsenal must hit on Tuesday – bemoaning a tension that undermined their work against Watford before warning that there is no margin for error at Camp Nou.
“We were not relaxed against Watford. Even in the box we played and always found good positions, with the man in the right position but we lacked that relaxation even to hit the target,” the centre-back told his club’s official website. “We did not do that sometimes. We missed it too often.
“We cannot afford to concede against Barcelona. We have to go there and try to attack, no matter what, that is the only possibility we have. We can be fortunate to have such big game in front of us.
“They are the ultimate team at the minute, so we are straight away under pressure and we have to go away from home. I think the confidence is there, we are just missing something.
“The season is not over. We play in a confident way, we maybe lack that bit at the end. The desire to play together and to be good as a team is there, you can feel that.”
The task for Mertesacker and his defensive colleagues will be made more difficult by Luis Suarez’s expected return to the Barcelona starting line-up – the Uruguay striker having rested as his colleagues routed Getafe 6-0 on Saturday.
Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott provide options for Wenger to bolster his attack with pace in search of the goals required, the former having come off the bench to net a late consolation as Watford held on for a 2-1 win.
- Barcelona are in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 12th consecutive campaign. They have reached the semi-finals in seven of the last eight campaigns.
- Barcelona have won the Champions League in four of the last 10 seasons. They could become the first team since AC Milan to win back-to-back European Cup/Champions League titles. The Rossoneri did it in 1989 & 1990.
- Arsenal are the only team alongside Real Madrid to have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League every season since the new format in 2003/04. They have gone out in the Last 16 in each of the last five seasons.
- Barcelona have come out on top in each of their three previous Champions League home & away knockout encounters with Arsenal: 2006 final (2-1), 2009/10 quarter-final (6-3 on agg.) and 2010/11 Last 16 (4-3 on agg.).
- Arsenal have never beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou (D1 L2). They’ve conceded seven goals in their last two Champions League trips to Catalonia.
- Only one team has beaten Barcelona by at least two clear goals at the Camp Nou in the Champions League in the last 12 seasons: Bayern Munich in May 2013 (3-0).
- Barcelona are one of two clubs still unbeaten in the Champions League this season, the other being Real Madrid. They have won 16 of their 20 Champions League games since last season (D2 L2), scoring in all 20 games.
- Luis Enrique has won all nine of his Champions League games at the Camp Nou as Barcelona manager (24 goals scored, 4 conceded). A 10th win in a row would set a new record for the Blaugranas in the competition.
As at this post Barcelona has 1.25 odd to win the match on NaijaBet while Arsenal has 11.98 odd to win the match also, while the odd to draw the match is 6.99