Gunning for the champs
Arsene Wenger has thrown down a Champions League gauntlet to his Arsenal side, challenging his team to show themselves as “big players” in their last 16 clash with Bayern Munich.
Wenger pointed towards previous and current greats – with references to Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo – as inspiration for his side and stated that such players were only thought of that way due to their triumph in big games.
With Bayern travelling to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, the scene of their 3-1 victory which helped them advance at Arsenal’s expense last season, Wenger called on his squad to step up and further their reputation on the world stage.
“If you look at the biggest games in the world, Zidane scores, Ronaldo scores, Messi scores. The competition belongs to them. That’s why they are big players,” Wenger said. “Against Bayern, I want Arsenal to show that we have such big players.
“But that recognition only comes with results and achievements. Once you win the Champions League, that’s when people say you are a great player.”
Meanwhile, Wenger has suggested the Bayern class of 2014 are no match for the Barcelona team Pep Guardiola guided to Champions League success on two occasions.
Arsenal were beaten by the Barcelona side who reigned as European champions in 2009 and 2011 as well as the Bayern Munich team that won the tournament last season, but he is clear which of the two teams impressed him most.
Ahead of his rematch with a Bayern team now led by ex-Barca coach Guardiola, Wenger has offered up a fascinating comparison of the two teams that have dominated the European game in recent years.
“I was most impressed by the Barcelona team at the peak, through the speed of their passing and the speed of their game,” Wenger told reporters.
“The first time we played them at the Emirates [March 2010], the first half an hour was the best I’ve seen. Hopefully I will not have the same impression on Wednesday night. Until now, in my experience, in my life, that’s the best team I’ve played against.”
Arsenal held on to draw 2-2 with the Catalans in the Champions League quarter-final first leg that Wenger refers to, before being eliminated 6-3 on aggregate following a 4-1 loss at the Nou Camp, in which Lionel Messi scored all four goals.
Speaking before Barcelona’s impressive display against Manchester City on Tuesday, Wenger suggested it would be wrong to write off Gerardo Martino’s La Liga leaders in this season’s Champions League.
“They are not finished,” Wenger stated. “They still won the championship in Spain [last season] and the consensus of opinion adapts always to the last result. I don’t think they are finished.
“They have Neymar, Messi, they have [Cesc] Fabregas, [Andres] Iniesta. They are not average players. They are top-class players. They can surprise everybody again this season.”
Wenger suggested that Bayern are not an improved model of the team that overcame Arsenal at the same stage of the Champions League a year ago.
“Last year they won the German league, the German Cup, the Champions League and the [Club] World Cup,” he added. “How can they improve?
“Maybe in the style there is always room for improvement, but if they just do the same achievements this season they can say they have improved, because it’s more difficult to do it again.”