LONDON - Arsenal undoubtedly admire
Barcelona but they must put that out of their minds to have any
chance of beating the Spanish side in the Champions League last
16 starting at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal's most influential player, sometimes
gives the impression that he is on sabbatical in London,
sharpening his game for when he returns to the Barcelona club he
left as a 16-year-old.
"We know they are the best team in the world and it is a big
task for us but we will do our best," Fabregas said in a
lukewarm war-cry hardly likely to get the fans jumping.
Asked about the lessons of last season's 6-3 quarter-final
hammering by the Spaniards, Fabregas said. "It's difficult to
learn. They are such a good team, they have so many quality
players that can make the difference. They were great last year,
they played us at our own game and they were brilliant".
It is hardly surprising Fabregas worships at the Nou Camp
shrine but manager Arsene Wenger too seems to hold the team he
lost to in the 2006 final as the ultimate footballing model.
Wenger's ideal side is one full of short, skilful players
with a great touch, wonderful vision and the ability to pass all
day - just like Barcelona.
Arsenal's intricate passing, though too-often overcooked in
and around the area, is usually enough to find a hole in Premier
However, as Wenger discovered last season, when his team
come up against a side doing the same only better and with
superior front men to finish it all off, things can go badly
"In the first half we gave Barcelona too much respect and we
were lucky to get away with it," he said of the first leg when
Arsenal trailed 2-0 but fought back to draw 2-2.
Lionel Messi's four goals in the second leg ended Arsenal's
interest but Barcelona found things much tougher in the
semi-final against Inter Milan. The Italians sat deep, allowed
their opponents to pass themselves to sleep and swarmed all over
them whenever they approached the box.
Wenger, however, said he had no plans to adopt that
successful spoiling tactic, certainly at home, and would again
go to-to-toe in trying to outpass the pass-masters.
"The question at the Nou Camp is 'will we change the way we
play?' but here we will try to play to our strengths. We will
try to attack the other team," he said before his side's 11th
successive foray into the knockout phase.
"If we play in the final third defensively, it will not be
our game. We have matured from last year so it is important we
play with belief."
Wenger said he was unlikely to take a "crazy gamble" on
Samir Nasri, who has just about recovered from a hamstring
strain but does seem likely to throw young midfielder Jack
Wilshere in for the toughest test of his fledgling career.
Barcelona go into the game having seen their record 16-match
winning run ended with a 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon but they
still lead Real Madrid by five points.
With Arsenal also going well domestically, four points
behind leaders Manchester United, Barcelona forward
Pedro, one of eight Spanish World Cup-winners in the Catalan
club's squad, said he expected an attractive and open game.
"Arsenal are a fantastic side and a very tough opponent with
very good players," he said. "Maybe they are more dangerous this
Arsenal: 6-Wojciech Szczesny; 7-Gael Clichy, 18-Sebastien
Squillaci, 6-Laurent Koscielny, 28-Kieran Gibbs; 23-Andrei
Arshavin, 7-Cesc Fabregas, 17-Alex Song, 9-Jack wilshere,14-Theo
Walcott; 10-Robin van Persie.
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Dani Alves, 3-Gerard Pique,
22-Eric Abidal, 19-Maxwell; 6-Xavi, 16-Sergio Busquets, 8-Andres
Iniesta; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi, 7-David Villa.
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).
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