Nasri: We're not scared of Barça anymore
Samir Nasri tonight declared Arsenal are capable of overcoming Barcelona because they have developed into a more "macho" team.
The Gunners head to the Nou Camp on Tuesday for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 clash convinced they can stage another stunning upset. A 2-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium has offered sight of the quarter-finals, the stage at which Barcelona dumped them out of the competition last year.
Nasri revealed the Spanish champions were viewed with awe when they met in 2010, but stated reverence has since been replaced with belief. "Barcelona seemed much better last year because we've become more macho, both physically and psychologically," he said at the adidas launch of the official match ball for the UEFA Champions League final Wembley 2011.
"Some of the players are much better this year than before - Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, myself," he went on. "We've all stepped up and become stronger and more macho. Players have stepped up and driven the team forward. We can compete with everyone now. We approached the game differently this time because last year we were a little bit scared of Barcelona.
"It was the first time we had played against a team like that," the Frenchman added. "They were fantastic and played amazing football. We were really surprised at how good they were. This year we've said, 'listen, they are the best team in the world, if we beat them it will be fantastic. If we lose, it will be normal because they are the best team in the world'. We went in without pressure and played our game. We showed everyone we can beat them."
Macho is not a word usually associated with the current Arsenal, but for once it is the opposition who have been accused of fragility. Barcelona wilted markedly at the Emirates Stadium, surrendering a 1-0 lead in the final 20 minutes as the Gunners' persistence paid off with goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.
Nasri insisted the Catalan giants' suspect stamina is a weakness, while in contrast Arsenal are addressing questions over their own flaws - both mental and physical. "We came back in the first leg because physically they dropped," he said. "This is because the Spanish league is not the same as the Premier League. In England there is an intensity that isn't there in Spain.
"It was good for us because in the last couple of years everyone has questioned our mental strength," he added. "We showed in the match that we have that mental strength. It was special for us because we proved to ourselves that we can beat big teams. We felt fitter in the first leg and last year as well. We were losing 2-0 but came back 2-2.
"This year for 70 minutes they were great, they had the ball and were playing," Nasri continued. "But they made some changes, were less dangerous and we put more pressure on them and became more aggressive. Barcelona are like Brazil. They don't like it when you put pressure on them and attack them. They want to play their game. If you put pressure on them, they're not the same team."
Far from seeing last weekend's Carling Cup final defeat by Birmingham as the cue for Arsenal's season to unravel, Nasri believes it will provoke a response that proves their character. "The blow will drive us forward because we want to take revenge for what happened on Sunday," he said. "We want to show everyone that we are men and have guts to answer people and show we are not the same players as before."