Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal proved they have the quality to win the Premier League title in their Champions League defeat at Barcelona.
The Gunners went into the game at the Nou Camp already staring down the barrel having been beaten 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium in February’s first leg.
And, despite a gutsy performance against the reigning European champions, goals from Neymar, Lionel Messi and a stunning Luis Suarez volley saw Barcelona comfortably into the last eight with a 3-1 victory.
Mohamed Elneny’s first goal for Arsenal was consigned to the status of a consolation strike as the club continue to fall away.
Wenger’s players came here in bad form, having slipped from top of the Premier League to 11 points adrift of current leaders Leicester and missing the chance to seal three successive FA Cups following Sunday’s quarter-final elimination at the hands of Watford.
However, they performed admirably, albeit against a Barcelona side which often seemed to be going through the motions, and only some wasteful possession in the final third prevented them making this a contest as they fell at the round of 16 stage for the sixth straight season.
And Wenger saw enough to convince him Arsenal can overhaul both Tottenham and Leicester to win their first league title in 12 years.
When asked if there was enough in the performance to say that Arsenal can still win the league, he replied: “I think yes.
“I’m pleased with the performance. The quality of our game was good. I’m disappointed with the result but we played a team with the best three strikers I’ve seen. The Premier League is more open than people think.”
While praising his own players, Wenger reserved special praise for Barcelona’s trio of world-class forwards – with Neymar opening the scoring and Messi adding a late third after Suarez had rifled home a memorable, acrobatic volley to kill off Arsenal’s lingering hopes.
“We had chances and Barcelona are an exceptional side,” Wenger added.
“Barcelona, going forward in the final third with the quality of passing and creativity, Messi was absolutely exceptional.
“He went for 90 minutes and came out of the game without missing a first touch, no matter where the ball came from. Barcelona have two or three players who can transform normal life into art.”
Holders Barcelona now go into Friday’s quarter-final draw, with coach Luis Enrique bullish when asked about possible opponents.
“The only team I don’t want to face is Barca, and it’s a certainty that we won’t,” he said.
“Obviously we have unique players but in the end the great thing about this team is they work collectively – in both attack and defence.
“Suarez, Messi and Neymar feed off each other. I am pleased they’re our forwards.
“To be able to resolve games we have to have their initial pressure. They help us create pressure, and they get back to defend as well, which every team needs in any competition.”