Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, has laughed off suggestions he might try to sign Jack Wilshere, the talented Arsenal midfielder.
Barcelona coach: We are not interested in Jack Wilshere
The 19-year-old was the Gunners’ best player in their 2-1 over Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie at the Emirates Stadium in midweek, more than holding his own against the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
The England international even outshined his captain, Cesc Fabregas, whom Barcelona are eager to bring back to Camp Nou.
Guardiola, though, admitted he would not be making a move for Wilshere, and also hinted his side would find it tough to prise Fabregas away from north London.
“He [Wilshere] is a great player — a great player for Arsenal,” the Barca coach said.
“And in any case, Arsene Wenger [the Arsenal manager] doesn’t sell his best players.”
Guardiola claimed he expects a stern test from Wenger’s side in the return leg of their Champions League clash at Camp Nou.
Barca needed a late Lionel Messi strike to beat Athletic Bilbao last night as they returned to winning ways, while Arsenal, fielding a much-changed side, could only draw 1-1 at lower-league Leyton Orient in the FA Cup.
The Gunners also let a four-goal lead slip to draw 4-4 at Newcastle recently, but Guardiola insisted he drew no comfort from those results.
“Arsenal are a wonderful side,” he said. “You will not hear me discredit Arsenal — they are a great side with a great coach and they will be a very difficult opponent.
“It will be a great game against a great team.”
There had been talk in Spain of a mini-crisis for Barcelona after the Catalans had failed to beat Sporting Gijon last weekend and then lost at Arsenal, but a hard-fought 2-1 win over Athletic saw normal order restored.
“I see this talk of a crisis at Barca and laugh,” Joaquin Caparros, the Athletic coach, said.
Caparros saw his side go behind after just three minutes, but Dani Alves was in an offside position when he ran on to Xavi’s pass before squaring for David Villa to score for the third game running.
“The offside is very clear and a goal in third minute ruins everything you have worked on,” he said.
On the flipside, however, Messi looked unfortunate to have two penalty appeals turned down before he scored a late winner.
Barca were not at their best but still moved back five points ahead of Real Madrid in the Primera Liga with 14 league games left.
“To be five points ahead of Madrid is a total success,” Guardiola said. “They are a great team and they have a coach who has not lost a home game for nine years.
“For me, there is no better team in Europe.”
Barca face their arch-rivals in the final of the Copa del Rey in April and could yet meet Jose Mourinho’s side in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Guardiola said winning becomes more difficult every year.
“People say that it’s easier because we have been together for longer,” he said. “But every year it gets harder; you don’t see Rafael Nadal beating Roger Federer 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, just like you didn’t see the Chicago Bulls winning easily when Michael Jordan was playing — sometimes they won with the last shot of the game.”
Victor Valdes missed yesterday’s game with a knee problem, but the keeper should return in time for the clash with Arsenal.
“He has a small strain,” Guardiola said. “He will be back in a few days, but we have every confidence in (second-choice keeper Jose Manuel) Pinto.”
Indeed, Pinto made several fine saves against Athletic and the former Celta Vigo keeper was only beaten by Andoni Iraola’s second-half penalty.
The match was Guardiola’s 100th league game in charge at Barca and saw Messi make his 250th competitive appearance for the Catalan club.