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Team spirit can help Arsenal conquer Barcelona

By Kevin Garside

Perhaps this is a time to view Barcelona in the Champions League as an opportunity not a trauma. There is a sense that fate is calling Arsenal forward, offering a moment to strike out, to make a statement.

Next Monday, Arsenal take on Manchester City in a match loaded with significance. If the idea of taking down Barcelona in Europe is a stretch, the visit of City invites Arsenal to take responsibility for - and ultimately control of - their best opportunity to win the Premier League since they last bossed the game in England 12 years ago.

Exquisite promise has been a persistent feature in recent years, but so too has the troubling collapse, a curious draining of belief when the demand was to stand tall. This was seen as a structural flaw linked to the continuing presence of Arsene Wenger, the guru gone bad, or so his critics maintained.

Well, he has steered his team of many talents into an enviable position at a critical point in the season, managing the standard injury issues along the way. Wenger never tires of telling us about the togetherness binding the group, and while there have been disappointments, we are beginning to see the truth of his claims.

The result against Olympiakos was delivered against a background of necessity. Winning to order is not easy, especially on the road. There was less to be learned in the summary dismissal of Aston Villa, but it was obvious Arsenal are as one.

This could be seen most clearly in the warm-up at Villa Park, where that precious jewel Mesut Ozil delighted in sending Petr Cech the wrong way while team-mates looked on appreciatively. If this were a barometer of team spirit, then Wenger has a point when he draws attention to that quality.

And should his team train on over the next two months, who knows what might happen in February when Messi and Co come calling?

Wenger said: "I'm very proud and happy of the spirit we show. That's what people want to see. There's a strength and togetherness coming out of the team that people feel and that's the biggest satisfaction. It's the best basis to make results."

The upswing in form of Olivier Giroud, a striker who does not have the obvious appeal of some of his forebears at Arsenal, could not have been more timely. The hat-trick in Athens was followed by a nicely drilled penalty at Villa Park. Bring it on, he says, of the match against City.

"I'm pleased with that and I don't want to stop here," he said. "We did a great job in the Champions League and we really wanted to finish the week with a win and to be top of the league before Leicester's game against Chelsea. Hopefully we can have a great game against Manchester City."

At the other end of the pitch, Cech has affected a quiet transformation in his organisation of the back four, sending forth ripples of confidence with every clean sheet posted. Theo Walcott appreciates the qualities that bookends his team.

He said: "From when we signed him, we all knew how good he (Cech) was. He's changed us completely in that back four. He's a talker, he believes in us. He's commanding and a leader."

Belfast Telegraph


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