Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Walcott hails battling Arsenal

Theo Walcott praised Arsenal's battling spirit as they came from two goals behind to grab a 2-2 draw against 10-man Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Emirates Stadium.

The visitors looked to be in control when Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck twice shortly after half-time, but the Gunners battled back after Walcott's 66th-minute introduction.

The England winger struck three minutes after coming on and the home side drew level when skipper Cesc Fabregas crashed home a penalty after Carles Puyol fouled him to earn his marching orders.

"It was a fantastic game for the neutral and to be involved in tonight was great. I always knew if I could get on I could show what I could do," Walcott said.

"It's been very frustrating for me not to get to start as many games as I want, but the team did fanatically well to come back tonight, not just myself. We showed some fantastic character.

"We were very disappointed in the two goals, we want to keep clean sheets, but if you look back at the game they had a lot of possession and I think 2-2 is probably a fair result in the end."

Fabregas limped off after scoring the penalty, although the former Barca man will miss the second leg after picking up a caution in the first half.

"Cesc is a solider and he is our captain. I don't know what the damage is just yet so fingers crossed it won't be bad," Walcott added on ITV1.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was unable to give an indication of the extent of Fabregas' knee injury.

The Spain international was clearly inhibited by the complaint as he limped around the pitch for the final five minutes, but was not withdrawn as Wenger had used all three substitutes at that point.

"I can not give you any report yet. I've not spoken to the medical people," he said.

"I couldn't change anybody, I had to leave him on even though I wanted to take him off.

"In any case he wanted to stay on."

The Frenchman praised his side's resilience after they were put under siege for the first hour of the match, but admitted their performance before then was "beyond understanding".

"It was a very difficult start. They could have scored a few goals in the first 20 minutes," he added.

"We lost the ball too quickly, but in fairness to the players they stayed resilient and kept going.

"They missed chances and we missed some unbelievable chances as well. In the end it was a 2-2 draw.

"The regret I have tonight is, and I don't deny we did play against a great side, but we gave away two cheap goals.

"I believe the way we gave the ball away today is beyond understanding."

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