Barcelona are nearly perfect - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger has described Barcelona as the "super favourites" for their Champions League clash against Arsenal on Tuesday, but said the game is a chance for his team to show they have learned from previous mistakes in the competition.
Arsenal have exited the Champions League in the round of 16 in each of the last five seasons, having lost badly at home in the first leg in the last three campaigns.
So when Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez come to the Emirates, Wenger would be happy just to see his team maintain a fighting chance for the return leg.
"Barcelona are super favourites in this game," Wenger said. "No team is perfect, although they are not far from it Barcelona, I must say. But we have a good opportunity to show that we have learned. It's true that we gave ourselves a difficult task every time after the first leg [in recent years], maybe because we were too keen to make the difference in the first game.
"Therefore we have to find the right balance between being audacious, because that's what we will need to be against Barcelona, and being strong defensively as a unit and not put ourselves in front of a very difficult task in the second leg."
Arsenal were beaten 3-1 and 2-0 at home by Bayern Munich in 2013 and 2014 in the first leg, and followed that up with a 3-1 defeat to Monaco at the Emirates despite being the favourites against the French league side.
In 2014, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off in the first half against Bayern and Arsenal never had a chance after that. But Wenger said this Arsenal side is more mature after those setbacks and must avoid similar mistakes against Barcelona.
"We are better equipped in the sense that we have assembled experience and the players have played for a while together now," Wenger said.
"Some of the games we played 10 against 11 and then it's nearly impossible against teams of that calibre. So tomorrow we need to find a good mixture between commitment and as well keeping our nerves and discipline. No stupid fouls, no stupid red card like it happened before. We have to show that we can have control and a committed attitude."
Arsenal are coming off a disappointing 0-0 draw against Hull in the FA Cup when the team wasted a number of chances despite dominating possession against the Championship side. And Wenger knows the team must be much sharper in a game when the roles are likely to be reversed.
"We have to use every moment in the game when we have a chance to score," Wenger said. "Against Barcelona we will have much less the ball and we have to make more of it."
Those chances may fall to Olivier Giroud, who is expected to start up front after being on the bench against Hull. Giroud has five goals in the Champions League this season after a decisive hat trick against Olympiakos that sent the Gunners through to the knockout stages.
Giroud also scored in both games against Bayern this season, and said Arsenal can play without any pressure as the underdogs against Barcelona.
"They look unstoppable, but in playing our best game and being 100 percent together, then yes of course [we can win]," Giroud said. "We need to be confident and play our Arsenal way."
Wenger also heaped more praise on Messi and what he has achieved since he missed the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal, which Barcelona won 2-1 without him.
"Now it's 10 years later, and it's remarkable what he has achieved between 2006 and now," Wenger said. "When you see the other day that Messi scored his 300th [league] goal in 340 games. I've seen many, many strikers in my life but I've never seen a record like that."
Wenger also said this Barcelona team is different from the one that eliminated Arsenal in 2011 in that they're not as possession based without midfielder Xavi Hernandez, but are instead more dangerous on the break.
"They have a team that can score at any moment. Even when they are dominated they are still very dangerous," Wenger said. "At any moment they can take advantage of any weakness. They have bit less possession, but they are maybe quicker in transition."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him @MattiasKaren.