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Feb 16, 2011

Wenger rejects Laporta claims

Arsene Wenger has hit back at accusations that Arsenal's capture of Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona was unfair, claiming his Champions League opponents should hold "no bitterness" over the deal.

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• Forum: Can Arsenal match Barca?

Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta has claimed "justice" will be done if and when Barcelona sign Fabregas from Arsenal, the club who swooped for the Spanish World Cup-winner when he was 16.

But while praising the side who visit the Emirates on Wednesday in their last-16 first leg as the best in the world, Wenger said Barcelona should have no gripes over the way Fabregas was signed and accused the club of double standards considering they too sign young players from other clubs.

Wenger said: "Where do they get their players? Where does Messi come from? Barcelona? At what age did they take him? Twelve years old. There's no reason for any bitterness because we did nothing illegal.

"We did not force a gun somewhere. We respected the rules. They could take our players, we accept that. They take their players from all over the world. Don't expect them only to get players from Catalonia."

Other than the ongoing saga surround Fabregas' future, there is a great mutual respect between the two clubs. Wenger praised the team who eliminated his in last year's quarter-finals and said that if Arsenal could spring an upset and knock out the tournament favourites, the Gunners would immediately leap towards the front of the pack when the last eight is decided.

"We want to win this competition and we know the only way to do that is to beat the super-favourites,'' he said. "Barcelona are certainly the best team in the world at the moment. If we knock Barcelona out, we straight away have a good chance to win the tournament.''

Arsenal have failed to beat Barcelona in five previous attempts, but Wenger believes their time has come following a chastening experience in last season's quarter-finals. The Gunners were humbled 6-3 on aggregate, losing 4-1 at the Nou Camp after Lionel Messi plundered four goals, and escaping with a 2-2 draw at home in which Fabregas famously scored a penalty with a broken leg. But Wenger insists much has changed in the last year.

"We don't deny the quality of Barcelona, but what is important for us is we have a good opportunity to show who we are now,'' he said. "Not only that, we also want to show Barcelona we are capable of knocking them out.

"We have the belief and a strong togetherness to show we are a different team now. In the first half of the home game last year we were spectators a little bit and were a bit inhibited. I believe that confidence-wise and mentally we are a completely different team today.''

In a huge boost to Arsenal, Samir Nasri is likely to start after the in-form France playmaker recovered from the hamstring injury sustained on January 30. Problems in his goalkeeping stocks, however, means Wenger will be forced to put 20-year-old Wojciech Szczesny in the firing line, although the manager expected his confident young star to handle the occasion.

Wenger said: "It's a big game for him because you think that once or twice he may have to do something tomorrow. He's not fazed by anything, which is very important at the top level. He doesn't give you the feeling that he's nervous in goal."

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