LONDON COLNEY, March 19 – Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal will be underdogs when they face European champions Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The Gunners were paired with Barca in Friday’s draw in Nyon and Wenger knows the tie represents a daunting proposition for his side as they bid to reach the final of Europe’s elite club competition for the second time.
Barca’s squad is packed with superstars like Argentina forward Lionel Messi, Spain midfielder Xavi and former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, who will return to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since leaving in 2007.
"I believe we will not be favourites but for me it will be a 50-50 game. That’s how we have to take it," Wenger said.
"When you get to the quarter-finals of the Champions League you play good teams and Barcelona are a good team.
"Of course they are a good side and so are we. It will be an interesting, exciting game. We have to make sure we have the belief and focus right."
Barca are widely regarded as the most eye-catching team in Europe and they were at their dazzling best while routing Stuttgart 4-0 in midweek.
Yet Arsenal are in fine form as well and remain one of the few teams capable of matching Barca’s fluid passing style.
Wenger insists his players should respect Josep Guardiola’s side but he sees no reason why they can’t upset the odds.
"You respect what they have done but this competition is about what you do tomorrow," Wenger said.
"On the day if you turn up with your best you have a chance. If we turn up with our best performance we have a good chance to beat them."
The tie is a repeat of the 2006 final, which Barcelona won 2-1 in Paris. Despite the early sending off of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Wenger’s team were within 14 minutes of lifting the trophy until late goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti clinched Barca’s second European Cup.
But the return of Henry, who spent eight years at Arsenal and won two Premier League titles, is certain to hog the limelight.
Wenger is still in contact with the 32-year-old, although he is keen that his players aren’t distracted by their former team-mate’s presence.
"We are always in contact. But I believe what is important is on the day that everyone sees a good football game and that we win it! The best way is to focus on us and not too much on our opponents," he said.
"The worry in the modern game is when you go to matches, you do not focus on football any more.
"When Chelsea played against Man City, people were more focused on the Wayne Bridge and John Terry handshake. I was excited to watch a good football game."
The first leg will be at the Emirates Stadium on March 31, with the return at the Nou Camp on April 6.
If the Gunners can eliminate Barca, they will face either Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan or Russian team CSKA Moscow in the semi-finals.
Wenger added: "You can only take one step at a time. Of course the route is not easy, I concede that. But the best way to be successful in the quarter-final is to go into those games in good condition and with a strong belief. That happens only if we do well in the Premier League.
"We have fought since August for the Premier League and it is important we keep our mind on what is vital to us – that is the championship. Then we can go into the Champions League with the right belief."
Wenger admits he is "80 percent certain" to be without injured France defender William Gallas for the first leg, but he should have captain Cesc Fabregas available after revealing the Spanish midfielder has recovered from a hamstring strain.