Arsene Wenger was bursting with pride after Arsenal fought their way back to beat Barcelona, the team he hails as the best in world football.
The Gunners looked in danger of being overwhelmed as they went behind to David Villa’s first-half strike but responded with two late goals in five minutes from Robin van Persie and substitute Andrey Arshavin.
Wenger said: ‘I am very proud for Arsenal because everybody urged us to play differently to our nature. It feels good. More than pride, it can strengthen the belief in our philosophy and that’s important. It is very promising for our future. The target is to keep these players together.
‘We played against the best team in the world and we managed to beat them. That doesn’t take anything away from Barcelona; they are still an exceptional side. We were resilient and strong. I am highly delighted. The game promised a lot and fulfilled that promise. It was a special football night, an exciting night and I thank the fans because we suffered at times but they were behind us.’
It was the first time the Gunners had ever beaten Barcelona but Wenger claimed the Catalans were still favourites to go through to the last eight of the Champions League, wary of last year’s quarter-final when his team lost 4-1 in the Nou Camp after hitting back from two down to draw 2-2 at the Emirates.
The Arsenal boss added: ‘It gives us a chance to go to Barcelona with belief. We know it will be difficult but we’ll prepare well and be highly focused.
‘We are not favourites but we believe we have a chance and we will go for it. We know we can beat them, which we didn’t know last year. This is a special lift for my team. We’ve shown exceptional strength and togetherness and this will reinforce that.’
Last night’s victory had special significance for Cesc Fabregas, who began his career at the Nou Camp and was the subject of a failed bid from the Spanish champions last summer.
Fabregas said: ‘Our first ever win against Barcelona? It sounds good, because they don’t lose many games and they are the best side in football history, in my opinion. It is just one game, though. This is a nice victory, it gives confidence to the team but that is all. If we now don’t show it at the Nou Camp, it means nothing.
‘Compared to last year, I don’t know how close we are but we have definitely improved.’
Copyright 2011 by The Daily Mail