18th December 2015: Wenger on Leicester and Barcelona

Happy Friday. We have an Arsenal-free weekend to ‘look forward’ to given we don’t play until Monday night when we entertain Manchester City, and I for one, find that pretty annoying.

To make matters worse, there’s no early kick-off tomorrow, the late one’s Newcastle v Aston Villa and the Sunday games live on TV are Watford v Liverpool and Swansea v West Ham. Exciting stuff. It’s like having three starters of freshly-projected sick, before the mouth-watering main of Arsenal v City on Monday. Still, given the feast of football on the horizon over the next festive fortnight or so, it would be churlish to complain. So I won’t.

Back to Arsene Wenger’s press conference from yesterday and the boss was asked for his opinion on Leicester City’s quite remarkable achievement of leading the Premier League with 16 games played, and said:

Not only (is Leicester’s league position good) for English football, it’s good for everybody in football all over the world to see that teams who are not on the biggest budget at the start can compete as well. There’s always a way to be successful when you’re intelligent and competent. Of course that’s very positive and they’ve shown another fantastic performance on Monday night [against Chelsea]. I always took them seriously but when we won 5-2 over there, nobody took our performance seriously. They just thought it was normal that we won at Leicester, but ever since you have been able to see that it was a great result and a great performance on the day.

There isn’t much to add about the Foxes’ form this season other than to say it was completely unexpected, but has been very refreshing for a league usually as predictable in terms of which teams finish in the top positions, as any other around Europe.

Sure, isolated results often surprise in the Premier League from week to week but by and large, the top two or three positioned teams are usually pretty easy to guess, or at least can be narrowed down to a handful of candidates, before the season starts. So to see a team who battled against relegation last year, fight for the title this, is amazing really.

And let’s not forget the opposite is also true this term. The reigning champions are so fearful of being relegated as we near the half-way mark of the season, they’ve just fired their manager. Anyway , as far as Leicester are concerned, I hope they continue their fine form because they’ll be worthy runners-up when we collect the Premier League trophy in May …

Moving on and Arsene was also asked about last Monday’s Champions League draw which of course paired us with the reigning European champions Barcelona. Here’s what he said:

We are more mature (than we were when we played the Catalans the last couple of times). We played against Barcelona with top teams, but very inexperienced and very young. Barcelona were in full power but we still managed to beat them and it was always very tight. We have never been beaten [comprehensively] and we were sometimes unlucky as well. That is in our minds. That is deep in my body as well. I do not forget that. We have a chance, an opportunity to put things right, and we’ll focus on that. We are playing against a team that have the trophy and are the best team in Europe and I think we have a good chance to go through. It is a difficult challenge but an exciting one as well.

To be fair, I’d say when they beat us 4-1 at Camp Nou in April 2010, with Lionel Messi scoring all four, it was a pretty comprehensive. But then, we did have Mikael Silvestre and Thomas Vermaelen at centre-half, Manuel Almunia in goal and Nicklas Bendtner up front, so we were kind of asking to get battered really.

I remember Arsene being asked if he thought Messi was the best player in the world in his post-match interview that night and he said simply, “by a distance”. ‘Take that, Ronaldo’, I thought at the time, agreeing completely with the boss’ sentiments. I mean, Cristiano’s a great player, but Messi, as Thierry Henry put it this week, ‘is a freak’.

Right, I’m waffling now. Time to leave it there.

Back tomorrow.

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