LONDON - Arsenal will man the barricades
on Tuesday in anticipation of a Barcelona backlash while hoping
that their second Champions League visit to the Nou Camp in less
than a year will be less harrowing than the first.
In last April's quarter-finals, the London side went to
Spain full of hope after a 2-2 draw at home. They even took the
lead only to be shredded by Lionel Messi who scored four times
to earn his side a 6-3 aggregate win.
This time, Arsene Wenger's team have gone one better after a
smash and grab raid in north London when Messi was strangely
profligate by his own stunningly high standards.
Quite what the Argentine magician has up his sleeve this
time only he knows, but Arsenal, like their North London rivals
Tottenham Hotspur and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk will have
genuine belief that they can reach the quarter-finals.
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Shakhtar also claimed an away victory in the first leg, 3-2
at Roma, when three goals by three different Brazilians put them
firmly in charge. The other tie to be decided this week is
Schalke against Valencia after the first leg ended 1-1.
Since those late goals by Robin van Persie and Andrei
Arshavin stunned Barcelona at the Emirates, the Gunners have
suffered a surprise League Cup final defeat by Birmingham City
and on Saturday were frustrated by Sunderland in a 0-0 draw.
What Wenger would give for a slice of the defensive resolve
that Sunderland displayed when they try to stop a Barcelona side
who at their best are the closest thing to an irresistible force
in world football.
While backs-to-the-wall defending is not Arsenal's style -
they prefer the game's finer arts - Barcelona may find more
obdurate opponents this time round, especially as the emphasis
is not on Arsenal to chase a goal.
"The challenge will be to find the right balance between
having a team who can defend, as well as one that has a good
opportunity, every time it has the ball, to go forward," Wenger,
who is without van Persie and Theo Walcott, told the club's
Barcelona, who rested some of their key players for
Saturday's 1-0 win against Real Zaragoza, are without injured
captain and central defender Carles Puyol.
Milan maintained their Serie A title charge with a 1-0
victory over Juventus on Saturday when Gennaro Gattuso scored
his first goal for three years.
The bearded midfielder will be missing, however, when Milan
try to turn around their tie at Tottenham, having been suspended
for five European matches after head-butting Tottenham assistant
coach Joe Jordan in the San Siro.
Milan also have key players such as Andrea Pirlo absent
through injury, although Tottenham will remain wary of a side
featuring Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho and possibly Pato in a
three-man attack should manager Massimiliano Allegri decide to
try and cash in on Tottenham's defensive fragility.
Tottenham, playing in Europe's elite club competition for
the first time since 1963, have let in six goals in two games
against clubs battling relegation in the Premier League and are
unlikely to sit back and protect their narrow advantage.
Gareth Bale, who missed the first leg with a back injury, is
expected to return after managing 20 minutes in Tottenham's 3-3
draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
With Roma and Inter Milan, who lost at home to Bayern
Munich, all needing away victories to stay alive in the
competition, Serie A could be without any representation in the
History is not on their side either, as only once has a team
progressed in the knockout rounds after losing a home first leg.
If Roma are to turn around their tie they will have to become
the first away team to win in Donetsk since October 2008.
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