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Arsene Wenger is left infuriated by his mis-firing Arsenal team

By Robert Jones

Arsene Wenger criticised his "guilty" Arsenal team for repeating past mistakes as Barcelona eased to a 2-0 win at the Emirates thanks to a Lionel Messi double.

Barca won the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie - the second leg is on March 16 - due to a combination of wasted goalscoring chances and defensive lapses that felt familiar to those which ended Arsenal's campaign at the same stage last season against Monaco.

Arsenal had more than matched the holders until Messi scored the first goal after 71 minutes, with the Barca defence blocking a number of shots and Olivier Giroud bringing a spectacular save from goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

Ultimately, however, the Gunners were punished for two mistakes and Messi didn't need a second invitation.

Messi finished a fine counter-attack started by Neymar and Luis Suarez to give Barcelona the lead in the 71st minute before, in the 83rd, winning and scoring the penalty that leaves Arsenal on the brink of elimination

"It's a bit disappointing to give them the goals that we did, especially the first goal," Wenger said.

"I feel that we were extremely guilty and have no excuses for that goal.

"They are better than us, everybody knows that, but we could've won the game if we kept the discipline until the end. Once again, like against Monaco, exactly the same thing happened. We were caught in exactly the same way.

"We had two or three opportunities to stop the first goal which we didn't do because I don't think we had the right response to the situation that our players faced.

"We were impatient in the build-up, we lost balls that we usually don't and that's not because Barcelona forced us to do it, but just because we were not precise enough in our passing."

The potential bonus of their likely Champions League exit is that Wenger can focus Arsenal's resources on pursuing both the Premier League title and retaining the FA Cup.

But asked if he would be tempted to play a weakened team in their second leg with Barca, the manager responded: "Barcelona are certainly through, 95 per cent, but we want to go there and play.

"We are Arsenal Football Club and we will not go there to just have no chance."

Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker admitted that the Gunners got what they derserved after missing so many chances.

"When they scored first and then especially (getting) the second, it's tough for us but we had to score at one point here," said Mertesacker.

"That is why we do not deserve anything. Obviously you will never manage to keep them quiet for 90 minutes, that's for sure, but we managed to work well in the first half with good chances, but we need to score and then drop back.

"Instead we took more risks and then they scored. It's going to be much more difficult now, but we never give up.

"We didn't deserve anything because we had enough chances to score at least one."

Asked what can be done to turn the tie around, Mertesacker commented: "We have to concentrate on the Premier League and then in one month we are facing Barca again.

"We will have the same courage and same bravery. We still have a little chance, we don't give up, we always fight. That's our spirit," he added.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph