LIONEL MESSI and Barcelona seemed like they were playing a different sport when Paul Hanlon was handed a harsh pre-season lesson as a raw teenager.
But he is hoping Arsenal’s superstars can help ensure Hibs are at the top of their game for next week’s European outing.
Hanlon was just 18 in 2008 when he and his Easter Road team-mates were given the runaround by Messi and the likes of Thierry Henry, Dani Alves, Pique, Yaya Toure and Samuel Eto’o in a 6-0 mauling at Murrayfield.
It was a memorable occasion – forgetting the scoreline.
But the Scotland cap is hopeful Tuesday’s friendly against Arsenal will be less of a steep learning curve and more of a level playing field ahead of next Thursday’s Europa Conference League meeting with either Mons Calpe of Gibraltar or Andorrans Santa Coloma.
He said: “That Barcelona game was a tough match – and you probably don’t take anything from that to be honest!
“I think they were playing a different sport!
“It was a great experience in terms of who you were on the pitch with. Those are the memories you take from it.
“With a top club like Arsenal coming to Easter Road, it’s an exciting fixture. It’s exciting for everyone, but especially us as players.
“First and foremost, we are preparing for our season and we need to look at what we want to implement and get as much out of it as we can.
“But you have to be aware of the quality you are playing against and try to take as much as you can from it.
“We’re going to have to be switched on for the whole game. They’ll have quality in their squad that can hurt us.
“So it’s a real test for us.”
Hibs spent last week in Cheshire as they warmed up for the new campaign.
Closed-door friendlies against Dunfermline, Accrington Stanley and Stoke City have helped hone the fitness and, with Raith to follow on Friday, Hanlon admits anticipation is now building towards their continental return.
He added: “Our reward for finishing third last season is European football.
“We are really excited about it, it has been our main focus throughout pre-season.
“It’s an old cliché but you do take it every round as it comes and it’s going to be a difficult task wherever we end up in this round.
“It’s about getting on that wave and ticking them off, and seeing how far it can go.
“We’ve got a squad full of players who are driven and hungry to get as far as we possibly can.
“So, hopefully that can take us a few rounds in and hopefully into the group stage.”