Barcelona have been warned that although they may well knock Arsenal out of the Champions League tomorrow night (16 March), they have a long way to go to match the achievements of the Gunners' legendary "Invincibles" side. Former Arsenal right-back Lauren made the warning while reminiscing over his time in North London, revealing that Arsene Wenger convinced him to turn down an offer from Real Madrid to move to the Premier League.
Barcelona welcome their English opponents on the back of a 2-0 goal advantage, after Lionel Messi bagged a brace in the first-leg at Emirates Stadium. Luis Enrique's side lead La Liga and have already booked their place in the Copa del Rey final, part of an impressive campaign that has seen them go 37 matches undefeated since a slip up against Sevilla in October.
Lauren admits the Catalans could well win the treble this season, but says they have a long way to go before they can match the Arsenal Invincibles side that won the Premier League in 2004/05 without losing a game. Lauren himself played a major part in that success, alongside the more heralded likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp.
"If Barca are at 100%, no team can stand up to them. Barça will end up as champions of whatever competition they want to win," admitted conceded during an interview with AS.
Yet asked if this Barcelona side could match the Invincibles' 49-game unbeaten run, he said: "We reached that figure only in the league! Even for Barca to get to that figure it's going to be difficult. Only [Arsene] Wenger believed that we could do it."
Lauren had plenty of good words for Wenger, after the role the French boss played in his move from Mallorca in 2000. He refused to comment on current criticism of the boss, pointing out Wenger has taken them from mid-table underachievement to one of the best clubs in Europe.
"It was fairly informal. I met up with David Dein and Arsene Wenger on the outskirts of London. They offered me a cup of tea and we talked about football. I took that as their way of trying to figure me out psychologically, as they already knew what I was like on the pitch," he said. "[Candidate for the 2000 Real Madrid presidency, Juan] Onievamade me an offer to join Madrid but it was the encouragement I got from Wenger that convinced me Arsenal was the place for me.
"Wenger always looked further ahead – he was very forward-thinking. When he told us that Highbury would be demolished one day, we thought he was talking another language, but he knew that was the future for the club.
"It was time to move from the likes of [Lee] Dixon, and [Tony] Adams... the team that played to win 1-0 evolved into a side which played brilliant, dynamic football," Lauren added. "But it was a different story inside the dressing room. Wenger was very strict about what we ate, he would even control the vitamin supplements we had to take. We had to eat leafy, green vegetables at least once a day... The old guard didn't like that because they did whatever they liked. In the long run it was a battle that Wenger won. It was the modern way."