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On familiar ground

They were a side on the brink of humiliation after their first three games in this season's Champions League, yet Jose Antonio Reyes believes Arsenal are now ready to win Europe's ultimate prize.

Reyes returns to his Spanish homeland on Tuesday night to face the side that every coach left in the Champions League wanted to be paired with and he is not holding back in stating his firm belief that the Gunners will see off La Liga strugglers, Celta Vigo.

'Celta are not having their best moment so we are fortunate to have the chance to play them at this stage of the Champions League,' accepts the Spanish wonder kid.

'They have been struggling all season and have been near the relegation zone for most of the time. That's why I believe Arsenal will be able to eliminate Celta in this game.

'They have a new coach and he will do everything he can to turn it around. Raddy Antic has great experience in Spain, but with a side has been struggling for so many months, it will not be easy for him. So, Arsenal should look forward to this game with real optimism.

'If we come through, it is inevitable that we will play one of the giants of European football in the quarter-finals and maybe that is the sort of game Arsenal need to prove they are a top side now. They are already the best in England and I think the squad here should be respected more than it is by the rest of Europe.'

The capture of Reyes for a relatively modest initial down payment of £7m was further proof that Arsenal are emerging as a genuine superpower in the European game, capable of enticing the biggest names to their historic Highbury home.

There can be little doubt that this young man was one of the most prized assets in European football and big spenders like Real Madrid and Chelsea would have relished the chance to sign him, but Arsene Wenger's swoop was the signal that the North London club are ready to assume their place on the top table of the European game.

Reyes has no doubt that he has made the right career move and he is talking up their hopes of winning a competition in which they have consistently failed to reproduce the form that has established them as the most feared side in the English Premiership.

I have been amazed by the quality of this football club. Everything here is so professional.
Jose Reyes
'I have been amazed by the quality of this football club,' he continues. 'Everything here is so professional. From the training ground to the people they have had to look after me so far, it has been a wonderful experience.

'Also, Arsenal also have a great manager. One of the main reasons I accepted the offer to join this club was because Arsene Wenger has a reputation for taking young players and turning them into something special. He did it with guys like Vieira and Anelka.

'My first impression of Mr Wenger is that he will help me develop as a player. I see him as a very honest person and I'm sure we can be good for each other. To win the biggest prize of them all in my first season here, it would be beyond my dreams, but we have to believe it is possible.'

If success in the Champions League is beyond Reyes' dreams then such a triumph for Wenger would be nothing short of a miracle after the disastrous 3-0 home defeat against Internazionale in their first game of the competition back in September. They followed that up with defeat against Dynamo Kiev, but recovered magnificently to top their group.

With Arsenal apparently cruising towards another domestic league and cup Double, the Champions League remains their holy grail and even though Celta Vigo's form has shown some signs of revival since the appointment of Antic as head coach, they will surely have too much for the Spaniards.

The introduction of the wildly talented Reyes as Arsenal's wildcard may just be the tonic they need to push them over the finishing line in the Champions League and after his impressive FA Cup brace against Chelsea earlier this month, it seems his integration into English football is going well.

Reyes: Fit to start at Highbury in a full-strength Arsenal line-up
Reyes: Fit to start at Highbury in a full-strength Arsenal line-up

'Lauren has been acting as my host and we have a good few players at the club who speak Spanish,' he states, referring to the Cameroon international.

'They have made me feel welcome and I'm not worried about adapting to the English game, even though it is very quick. I know people talk about my price tags, but that is not my concern. Arsenal believe I am worth that amount of money and I have to prove they are right to do that.

'The English defences may look to target me and I have to be ready to deal with that. I am not the type to hide in a game, so it won't be a problem. Everyone who comes from Seville has great confidence and I am the same. I am proud of my roots and hopefully I can do well at Arsenal so that the people of Seville are proud of me.

'The English game can help me become a better player. I always look to express myself when I am on the pitch and that will not change now that I'm at Arsenal.'

They said it would never be done again, but at this moment in what has already been a magnificent season for the North London side, Arsenal are in with a real chance of emulating Manchester United's Treble triumph of 1999.

You suspect that such a scenario would not sit well with Sir Alex Ferguson as he sips his pina colada on the beach this summer.

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