Barcelona give Arsenal sinking feeling

Arsenal fans were left cursing their luck again after they were drawn to face the formidable challenge of holders Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Barcelona give Arsenal sinking feeling

The Gunners, who memorably clinched a place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 victory at Olympiacos last week, were handed arguably the toughest task when the draw for the next round was made at Uefa headquarters in Nyon.

Arsenal will need to overcome their own poor record against the side from the Nou Camp to progress. Arsene Wenger’s men were well beaten by Barcelona, 6-3 and 5-2 on aggregate, in 2010 and 2011 respectively, while they also lost 2-1 to them in the 2006 final in Paris.

Arsenal secretary David Miles told BT Sport: “It’s not going to be easy and it’s the team that most Arsenal fans would have wanted to avoid at this stage, but it’s up to us to make a good fist of it.

“We’ve got our own world-class players and certainly we’ll go in for this.

“It should be two fantastic games and we’re very much looking forward to it.”

The Catalans are relishing the prospect of locking horns with Arsenal in a mouth-watering Champions League last-16 clash, according to technical secretary Robert Fernandez.

The Spanish giants, winners over Juventus in the final in Berlin last season, are paired with Arsenal for the third time in seven campaigns.

Fernandez, currently in Japan with Barca for their Club World Cup campaign, said: “It’s an open and difficult tie. They have a very good team, magnificent players and play good football. We’ll enjoy it.

“It’s a very attractive tie for football and for the spectator. They have a similar football philosophy to ours, they like to attack and to have the ball.”

Barcelona will travel to Emirates Stadium, where they have not won on their last two Champions League visits, for the first leg on February 23 before hosting Arsene Wenger’s side at the Nou Camp on March 16.

Fernandez knows the tie in London is crucial to Barcelona’s chances of progressing, adding: “We have to be very good in the first game. It’s vital to get a good result there.

“Barca will have to be very focused and completely switched on because from now on there is no chance of rectifying any mistakes; during the group stages you still have room for error, but from now on, no.”

Meanwhile Arsenal’s Theo Walcott believes Petr Cech has transformed Arsenal’s defence after he equalled the Premier League clean sheet record.

The Gunners’ 2-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday meant Cech has now kept 169 shut outs, level with David James, in the top flight.

Victory took Arsenal above Manchester City ahead of the pair’s meeting next weekend.

Walcott said four-time league winner Cech, who signed from Chelsea in the summer, has completely changed the Gunners at the back.

“From when we signed him, we all knew how good he was [after] what he achieved at Chelsea,” Walcott told Arsenal Player. “On a personal level, for him it’s great.

“He’s changed us completely in that back four. He’s a talker, he believes in us all.

“That’s why he wanted to join us and having that presence behind you is always nice to have. He’s very commanding, he’s a leader in the dressing room as well, he always likes to talk.”

Walcott was brought down by Alan Hutton for Arsenal’s opener as Olivier Giroud converted the eighth-minute penalty, before Aaron Ramsey’s breakaway goal sealed victory.

Boss Arsene Wenger believes Giroud does not get the credit he deserves after his 50th league goal for the Gunners and Walcott thinks the France international is at the top of his game.

The England international continued: “It’s not just his goals, it’s his general play and everything about him.

“The way he holds the ball up, he blocks it and defends it, and he works hard from the team from defensive corners and everything.

“He’s in great form at the moment. He’s a dream to play with and he makes our job a lot easier. As soon as I won the penalty, I just knew that he would score.

“Confidence is streaming through him and you want that in the busy Christmas period. You want players that are on form and he’s definitely one of them.”

Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm is looking forward to a “European classic” when his side face Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League. The two sides met at the quarter-final stage three seasons ago, with Bayern winning 2-0 home and away on their way to lifting the trophy by beating Borussia Dortmund in the Wembley final.

They will renew acquaintances on February 23 in Turin and March 16 in Munich, with Juve having gone one step further than Bayern last season.

“It’s a European classic,” said Lahm on sport1.de. “Juve were in the final last year so it’s definitely a big challenge for us — but we want to make the quarter-finals so we’ll give everything we’ve got.”

Bayern’s honorary president Franz Beckenbauer has warned his club against taking the last-16 tie lightly.

“Juve are strong again and one of the best teams we have in Europe,” he said.

“For Bayern, it is an advantage to play the first leg away, get to know Juventus and then finish them off at home.”

Wolfsburg’s director of sport Klaus Allofs admitted his side had got the Champions League draw they had been hoping for as they were paired with Belgian side Gent.

The Wolves, who eliminated Manchester United in the group stage, will fancy their chances after reaching the last 16 for the first time in their history.

“We had all a bit been hoping for Gent,” Allofs said, according to sport1.de. “We can be quite happy.”

Football general director Clemente Villaverde insists Atletico Madrid will not take PSV Eindhoven lightly in the last 16. Atletico, runners-up to rivals Real Madrid in 2013-14, avoided the big names in yesterday’s draw and were paired with a PSV side making their first last-16 appearance since 2006-07.

“They’re a great team. They have a great tradition in Europe. They will surely make things very difficult for us to go to the next round,” Villaverde told www.clubatleticodemadrid.com.

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