Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits his team must rediscover their ruthless streak if they are to pull off a Champions League upset on Tuesday against a Barcelona team he rates as “not far from perfect”.
Barca, propelled by the free-scoring triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, are strongly fancied to condemn the Gunners to a sixth consecutive exit at the last 16 stage.
In stark contrast to their opponents, goals have dried up for the north Londoners with Saturday’s 0-0 draw against second-tier Hull the third time in four home fixtures that they have failed to net.
Wenger acknowledges that will have to improve when Mesut Ozil returns to the starting XI this evening if his team are to travel to Spain for the second leg in three weeks’ time with any hope of advancing.
“No team is perfect. Barcelona are not far from it,” he said. “We need to take our chances. Barcelona are super favourites. We need to raise the urgency level and be totally focused to have a chance.”
Wenger conceded his admiration for Barca’s devastating trio, of whom one-time Arsenal target Suarez has been the most prolific this term, scoring 41 goals to Messi’s 27 and 23 from Neymar.
“They are the most efficient [in the world]; top, top class,” he added. “Individually they have exceptional talent. The only way we can stop them is by being collectively resilient, having great solidarity and intelligence as well. Let’s not forget we have a good defensive record and a great goalkeeper as well.”
Goalkeeper Petr Cech has lent Arsenal a new-found solidity and leads the Premier League clean sheet standings with 13. He is also yet to concede a goal to Messi in six games against the world’s best player.
Wenger believes that foundation could be decisive as his team seek to balance necessary attacking threat with avoiding the trap of the last three seasons, in which they have lost the first leg at home.
“It’s a good opportunity to show we have learned,” he said. “We need to find the right balance between being audacious. We need to be strong defensively and not give ourselves a difficult task in the second leg.”