x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Wenger: Arsenal have the spirit of champions

Arsenal's manager thinks his depleted side have the strength to beat Barcelona in Camp Nou in their Champions League return leg.

Theo Walcott, right, is one Arsenal player who will be fit to face Barcelona tomorrow.
Theo Walcott, right, is one Arsenal player who will be fit to face Barcelona tomorrow.

A depleted Arsenal side must beat Barcelona in the Camp Nou tomorrow to progress to the Champions League semi-final, but Arsene Wenger thinks his side have the heart to pull off a result. The Arsenal manager, whose team scored five minutes into stoppage time to beat Wolves 1-0 in the Premier League on Saturday, said they have the "spirit of champions" in both body and mind.

"It is the tenacity and the mental strength these players have in them - that is why I want them so much to be successful because I feel they have, in their bodies and in their heads, the spirit of champions," said Wenger, whose side are three points behind Chelsea in the Premier League title race. "Maybe we take advantage of the technical superiority we have and the fatigue of our opponents, but it is not as easy to continue to go no matter what happens.

"We have been 11 points behind, been written off by everybody and been dominated by Barcelona [in the 2-2 first-leg draw at the Emirates]. To come back and not lose, you need something special." Wenger feels Arsenal will have to win all of their remaining five games to stand a chance of lifting the trophy as the top three battle for supremacy. "You can't say you give up if Chelsea have to go to Liverpool, and to Tottenham. Anything can happen," the Gunners boss said.

"If Manchester United want to give up, we have no problem with it - but I don't think they will." Arsenal will check on the fitness of Alex Song, the holding midfielder, ahead of the trip to Spain, and also whether Sol Campbell, the veteran centre-back, can handle another big game with such a short recovery time. He is already without Andrey Arshavin, William Gallas, Robin van Persie and, most importantly, Cesc Fabregas.

The good news for Wenger is that Barcelona also have their injury concerns. Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona manager, will be without four first-choice players for tomorrow's game. Barca will be missing the suspended duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, their centre-back pairing, while Andres Iniesta is injured as is Zlatan Ibrahimovic after picking up a calf injury in the warm-up prior to Saturday night's game at home to Athletic Bilbao, which the Catalans won 4-1.

Ibrahimovic, who scored both goals as Barca drew the opening leg 2-2 last Wednesday, is also doubtful for next weekend's Clasico at Real Madrid. Yaya Toure and Jeffren Suarez ended the Bilbao game with knocks but should recover. "We are short of players for Tuesday and we need support at the Nou Camp, the crowd can push us on - it's a real final," Guardiola said after the match."If we advance, we will have the chance to be league and European champions at the end of this season, so it's our most important game of the whole year."

* PA Sport