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Porto vs Arsenal: Mikel Arteta singles out Lionel Messi’s role in Gunners’ Champions League struggles but says past is ‘irrelevant’

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has reflected on the damage Lionel Messi dealt to the Gunners’ Uefa Champions League record – but says he has not spoken to his players about the club’s repeated struggles at the round of 16 stage because it is “irrelevant”.

Eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi was instrumental in Barca knocking Arsenal out of the competition three times, scoring three goals across a 2016 tie, two in one match in 2011 and four in 67 minutes at Camp Nou in 2010.

“Someone called Messi was another obstacle we faced,” Arteta smiled when he was asked whether Arsenal have a mental block about the knockout phase, speaking ahead of their round of 16 first leg at Porto on Wednesday.

“I haven’t had any conversations related to it. [The players] know that what happened in the past is irrelevant and the challenge and ambition that we have now to go through and deserve to be through.”

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Arsenal were knocked out in the round of 16 in seven successive seasons between 2011 and their most recent previous appearance in the Champions League in 2017.

Legendary manager Arsene Wenger led them to the final in 2005/06, when only two late Barca goals denied his side the title, but their only other appearance beyond the quarter-finals came in 2008/09, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Manchester United in the final four.

Arsenal Champions League win would be ‘incredible’

“We don’t have the experience – that’s the reality,” accepted Arteta, who played for Arsenal between 2011 and 2016 but did not feature against Barcelona and Messi. “95% of the players have not played in this competition.

“They have never played in the last 16. I haven’t, but we have so much enthusiasm and energy and willingness with a point to prove that we are good enough and want to be there. That’s our desire and the passion with which we’re going to play the game tomorrow.”

Porto are third in the Portuguese top flight and finished second to Barca in their Champions League group, with their only defeats coming against the reigning Spanish champions.

“It would be incredible to have that feeling to lift that cup in London on the 1st of June,” Arteta said of this season’s Champions League final at Wembley Stadium.

“It’s there, it’s in our minds and it’s a dream. But it’s a lot of things that you have to earn the right to have, and we’re going to have a big obstacle [Porto] ahead of us. We are really looking forward to it.”

Jon Fisher
Jon Fisher
Jon has over 20 years' experience in sports journalism having worked at the Press Association, Goal and Stats Perform, covering three World Cups, an Olympics and numerous other major sporting events.

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