Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists there is no room for complacency despite his side holding a 2-0 advantage over Arsenal heading into Wednesday’s Champions League Round-of-16 second leg at the Camp Nou. The Catalans have never gone out of Europe’s premier competition after winning the first leg away from home, yet, despite Lionel Messi’s double at the Emirates Stadium three weeks ago, Enrique is keen to keep his squad on their toes.
“[The 2-0 win in London] was a good result but it doesn't change our approach,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It is still an open match, our opponents are dangerous and we need to play very well to go through to the next round. Sometimes the match looks perfect because of the result, but there is always room for improvement. That's why football is so complex—11 players have to do the same things at the same time.”
While center-back Gerard Pique will miss the match through suspension, it would be a momentous shock were Barcelona not to make it nine successive seasons in the Champions League quarterfinals. Their form could hardly be any better, having equaled a club record of 12 straight victories in La Liga on Saturday when sweeping aside Getafe, 6-0. They have also won nine consecutive home matches in the Champions League, with their last defeat at the Camp Nou in Europe coming in the semifinals to Bayern Munich three years ago.
While for Barcelona getting back to the final eight of the Champions League would very much be business as usual, for Arsenal it has been a very different story in recent years. Failure to overturn their two-goal deficit on Wednesday would make it six straight seasons in which Arsene Wenger’s side had exited the competition at the Round of 16 stage.
It would also be the fourth time in 11 campaigns in which their hopes had been ended by Barcelona. Most notably, it was the Catalans who came out on top in the 2006 final; the closest Wenger has yet come to landing the one trophy to elude him in his 20 years at Arsenal. And Barcelona emerged victorious, too, over two legs in both 2010 and 2011.
A recurring theme of Arsenal’s Champions League exits in recent years has been to underperform and lost the first leg at home before coming back with a much-improved showing in the second leg, although ultimately still bowing out. It has so often appeared that Arsenal are far more comfortable when the pressure is off—a point hinted at by center-back Laurent Koscielny in the buildup to Wednesday’s second leg.
“We don’t have pressure like in the first game, because we play against the best team in the world,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “Now we need to play the second leg away at Barca and we have nothing to lose. People always talk about the statistics and I think we have maybe a five per cent chance to qualify.
“We need to play with freedom and believe in our quality because we did well during the first six months of this season. I don’t see why we can’t [play like that] against Barcelona and for the rest of the season.”
Arsenal’s recent form will provide little confidence, however. The first-leg defeat to Barcelona began a run of four defeats in six matches, which has seen them drop 11 points off the top of the Premier League and, on Sunday, exit the FA Cup with a home defeat to Watford.
Since Barcelona came to town, Arsenal’s injury list has also lengthened worryingly. Aaron Ramsey and Petr Cech have joined Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the sidelines, although Koscielny is back in the squad for Wednesday after his recent absence.
G: Ter Stegen
D: Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba
M: Rakitic, Xavi, Iniesta
F: Messi, Suárez , Neymar
D: Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Elneny, Coquelin
Welbeck, Özil, Sánchez
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1