Wenger won't sacrifice principles to blunt Barca

LONDON - Arsene Wenger has no intention of sacrificing his principles to blunt Barcelona and instead is backing his Arsenal team's ability to outpass Spain's pass masters in their Champions League last-16 tie.

Having tried to play Barca at their own game in last season's quarter-finals and come unstuck with a 6-3 aggregate defeat, Wenger says his team are better equipped to have another crack, beginning with Wednesday's first leg at Emirates Stadium.

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The Spaniards found things tougher in last year's semi-final when Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan sat deep and let Barcelona play in front of them, only getting involved when danger threatened.

The tactic paid off as Inter triumphed 3-2 on aggregate having limited Pep Guardiola's side to a solitary late goal in a 1-0 win at the Nou Camp in the second leg.

Wenger said on Tuesday he would stick with the approach that has been his career trademark, paving the way for a match that could set new records for the number of passes made.

"I think everybody expects an exciting game as it's two teams who play quality football," the Frenchman told a news conference at the club's training ground.

"To be faithful to our philosophy, make sure we dominate the game, that we pass the ball and have possession of the ball and if we are capable of doing that we have a very good chance."

GOOD OPPORTUNITY

Last season Barcelona led 2-0 at Emirates Stadium and though Arsenal fought back to draw 2-2 and then led the away leg 1-0, four goals by Lionel Messi sent the Spaniards through.

Wenger, whose side also lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final, said the defeat would be a help rather than a hindrance.

"Last year I said after the 4-1 that we lost to the better team," he said. "But we now have a good opportunity to show that we are not any more the team that played against them last year.

"We have the belief, a strong togetherness to show that, and a highly motivated team to go out tomorrow to show that we are a different team. This team has attitude, this team has focus.

"I've been a manager for a long time but I've not seen many teams with such a consistent focus every day to improve.

"We have the players available, 90 percent in February which was not the case last year, so we are in an ideal position to face them. This season it's down to your performance not down to history. It's about how good you are on the day.

"At the moment, Barcelona are the best team in the world - if we knock them out we have straightaway a good chance to win the competition."

DIFFERENT PROPOSITION

Midfielder Cesc Fabregas missed the second leg last season and Arsenal are a different proposition with him in the side.

His former club's annual enquires about his availability and his reciprocal affection may have some Arsenal fans questioning his motivation but Wenger dismissed the notion out of hand.

"He will approach it how he approaches every single game - with a huge desire to win," Wenger said. "Cesc Fabregas is an exceptional player but he is also a winner and he wants to win every single game and when he doesn't he's hugely frustrated.

"So he will be even more in that frame of mind tomorrow - thinking 'What can I do to win, to help the team win?'"

The Spaniard's combinations with Samir Nasri have played a big part in Arsenal's success this year although the 14-goal Frenchman will probably start on the bench after a quick recovery from a hamstring strain suffered on January 30.

"Everyone is absolutely adamant that he is completely medically available so it's up to me," said Wenger.

The Arsenal manager is unlikely to repeat the gamble that backfired three weeks ago when Nasri aggravated the injury after starting against Huddersfield in the FA Cup.

Czech international Tomas Rosicky is available after a groin injury but fellow midfielder Abou Diaby has been ruled out haing injured his calf on international duty last week.

Fellow Frenchman Bacary Sagna is suspended, with Emmanuel Eboue expected to step in at right-back


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