In the face of three games without victory, Barcelona have yet again truncated Pep Guardiola’s hope of victory, as Manchester City lost to the Spaniards on Wednesday night.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi netted the opener for the Spanish giants in a much expected tough UEFA Champions League showdown at the Camp Nou.
Efforts by the English side to balance the scoreboard in the first half proved abortive, but led to David Silva and Fernandinho getting a yellow card apiece.
As City’s Claudio Bravo bagged a straight red card, Messi showed his former coach that he was ready for the face-off, as he netted a brace in the second half (making it a hat-trick for the football legend).
Despite Guardiola’s familiarity with the hosts, Barcelona took their stand to maintain their home unbeaten record in the Champions League since 2013, as the match ended 4 – 0 with Neymar’s late goal.
The former Barcelona player and coach took the helm of the Sky Blues last summer.
Per Mertesacker says Arsenal can rediscover their “killer instinct” by attacking Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
The Gunners head into the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie having lost 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in February.
Arsène Wenger’s side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford on Sunday, but Mertesacker believes a strong attacking performance in Barcelona can get their season back on track.
“You have to give us credit because we kept going against Watford and created chance after chance,” he said. “But at the moment we lack that killer instinct. We need to work on that if we want to be successful in the Premier League and the Champions League.
“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. 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.”
Arsène Wenger has praised his Arsenal team’s “outstanding performance, attitude and resolute spirit” in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.
Alexis Sanchez’ 76th-minute leveller ensured a point for 10-man Arsenal in a typically high octane North London derby.
Aaron Ramsey had given the Gunners the lead but Francis Coquelin’s red card and subsequent Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane goals had threatened to consign the Gunners to a fourth straight defeat before Alexis’ equaliser.
“We’ve shown an outstanding performance, attitude and resolute spirit,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“Our spirit was questioned, our attitude was questioned and I think we gave the right response, which was not easy today.
“We have been questioned to the extreme because from being 1-0 up and feeling comfortable in the game, we were suddenly 2-1 down and down to 10 men. We came back to 2-2 and in the end I think we could have won 3-2.
“That’s the regret of the day but overall I’m very proud of the players and of their performance.
“The team needs to take encouragement from today and reproduce that kind of attitude in every single game.”
Francis Coquelin says Arsenal can do “great things” against Barcelona if they maintain their self-belief.
The Gunners host the Champions League holders – who are unbeaten in their last 32 games – on Tuesday in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Coquelin could potentially line up against Andres Iniesta and the Frenchman says he would relish the challenge.
“He is a player I really like,” he told Arsenal Player. “Every player they have got is almost the best in every position. Playing Iniesta is going to be tough, but I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to it.
“Any player wants to play players at this level and I’m ready for it if I’m involved. Everyone wants to play these types of games. We are really looking forward to it.
“Barcelona are probably the best team in the world at the moment. We are obviously looking forward to it even if it is really tough. Hopefully we can do something against such a massive team.
“Everyone needs to be at 100 per cent and I don’t think we need to play with fear. We need to be ready and believe we can do something.
“If we have that belief, we can do great things. We showed that in the past against Bayern Munich a few months ago. Not many people said we could win this game and we showed we can compete with great teams as well.”
Arsenal defender, Laurent Koscielny, will miss Sunday’s match with Manchester United, due to injury.
The defender limped off during Tuesday’s 3-2 defeat to Olympiakos, after suffering a hamstring problem.
Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, has now confirmed that he is facing around three weeks on the sidelines, ruling him out of this weekend’s clash at the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini will also miss out against United, but Francis Coquelin is expected to be fit.
This will come as a big blow to Arsene Wenger ahead of their crunch clash against the 20-time English champions, as the former Lorient defender was building a nice understanding with Gabriel at the heart of the Arsenal back four.
The French manager is keen to see the new partnership blossoming, as he views the duo as the future of the Gunners’ central defence.
Per Mertesacker will replace the injured Koscielny, and the former German international has called on the team to respond following their poor performance against Olympiacos in the Champions League on Tuesday (29 September) night.
Arsène Wenger has hailed Santi Cazorla for producing an “absolutely top” 2014/15 season.
The Spain midfielder made 53 appearances over the course of the campaign, and particularly excelled after moving into a deeper-lying central position at the turn of the year.
Those performances pleased the Arsenal manager, who feels Cazorla’s ability to “make the others around him good” is his biggest asset.
“Santi Cazorla played over 50 games and from the start to the finish he was absolutely top,” the Arsenal boss said. “But everybody has been great.
“Maybe with the quality and the consistency included from start to finish, it’s Cazorla (who has stood out the most).
“He had a few games where he was unplayable. I do not look too much at his individual brilliance.
“He makes the others around him good and that’s an outstanding quality for a midfielder.”
Wenger is happy with the way in which his new players adapted to English football and was also impressed by Francis Coquelin’s emergence.
“He (Coquelin) is the most unexpected player who has made it from January onwards,” Wenger said. “I don’t think I exaggerate if I say that he convinced everybody. He has played a huge part and contributed very well.
“We bought well. I believe Gabriel will be a revelation. I am convinced he will be a top player and we’ll see more of him next season.
“As well, I don’t like to forget players like Calum Chambers, who had a very good start to the season and who will come back to a very good level.
“We now have players back who were out for a year, like Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry. We have a big squad.”
Arsenal Captain, Per Mertesacker, says the squad is approaching Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Reading with vivid memories of last year’s tough semifinal against Wigan Athletic.
Mertesacker said that the Gunners have learnt lessons from their exit from the UEFA Champions League and cannot afford to make mistakes
The German defender believes the game will be tough but expects his team to win the encounter.
“It is going to be their biggest game of the season so to mentally prepare that is going to be difficult, not just to match their physicality and mental strength but to do more, to be on the ball from the start,” Mertesacker said.
“[We need] to show them respect but no fear for the pressure. The winning streak helps us a bit but this competition is completely different.
“It is the best competition I have ever played in because so many big teams struggle. But I don’t want to struggle.
“I want to repeat the success. That is my real target so let’s make sure that we are on the same level and do more than our opponent.
“The mental side of that [Wigan] game was really tough and we need to repeat that to show that we’re good enough and mentally good enough to repeat that.
“On the football side we’re good enough but sometimes you need to put in some different qualities nobody expects from you.
“We had some different games when you think of Manchester City away – nobody expected us to play like that, focusing on our own defence and then getting them on the break. That was something new for us as a team.
“We need a special performance on Saturday as well to release that pressure.”
The Gunners have won 16 of their past 18 matches and are heavy favourites to progress against Championship side Reading.
However, Francis Coquelin – who played against the Royals earlier this season while on loan at Charlton – says they will have to make a fast start to the match.
“You know the FA Cup, you don’t know what to expect – any team is ready for it and it is always a tough game at any stage,” he told Arsenal Player.
“A semi-final at Wembley will be even tougher. We need to be ready and start on the front foot. Hopefully we can do that and win the game.
“I remember a tough game [against them for Charlton]. We won 1-0, but to be honest I don’t think we really deserved it.
“They put a lot of pressure on us, they have Pogrebnyak up front who is a big threat, and on the wings they have great players as well. We know it will be a tough game, it is a semi-final and the league you play in doesn’t matter.
“Whether you are in the Championship or the Premier League, in a game like this the team who puts the most pressure on and creates the most chances will win. If everyone is focused, we know we can get a good result.”
Arsenal defender, Laurent Koscielny believes Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin are mentally prepared for the high intensity of a North London derby.
The youngsters have featured in each of Arsenal’s last four Premier League wins, helping the Gunners keep back-to-back clean sheets, while Bellerin scored his first senior goal in Sunday’s 5-0 victory against Aston Villa.
Koscielny praised the duo ahead of Saturday’s clash with Tottenham and believes Coquelin’s short loan with Charlton Athletic has helped him mature into an important first-team player.
“I’ve known him for a long time and knew that he has the quality to play for Arsenal,” the France defender told Arsenal Player.
“Now he is ready in his head and you can see that he’s played four or five games and he’s very important because we are stronger in defence.
“He cuts out little balls in front of us and after he has the quality technically to give some good passes for players like Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil or Theo Walcott. Now he has an important role in the team like Bellerin.
“Before, [Bellerin] played well but now you feel he is more confident and has more freedom – that’s good for us. He helps a lot of the team to go forward and puts in a lot of crosses. It’s important to have some new blood in the team and I think they have helped us get some good results.
“To have more confidence and freedom on the pitch, you need to play more games. They did well against Manchester City, Stoke City and also in the game against Aston Villa, so I think they are ready to give 10% of their quality to the team.
“You don’t need motivation when you play a derby. It’s the most important game in your season for the fans and the club. We will be focused, we will try to win because we want to stay at the top of the table and winning against Tottenham is always a pleasure for us, the fans and for the club.”