Emirates plays host to mouthwatering Champions League encounter.
Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta has been ruled out of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Arsenal because of a hamstring injury.
The 25-year-old came off at half-time during Barcelona’s 1-0 victory over Real Mallorca on Saturday and was assessed on Sunday.
The Spain international will be sidelined for about 10 days.
He faces a race to be fit for the home leg against Arsenal on 6 April and the clash with Real Madrid in two weeks.
Iniesta was one of the stars of last season’s Champions League, scoring a stoppage-time winner in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge and producing a performance against Manchester United in the final that prompted Wayne Rooney to describe him as the best player in the world.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are waiting on the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas after his knee injury against Birmingham.
The Gunners skipper required lengthy treatment following a challenge by Craig Gardner but carried on to complete the match, as a late Kevin Phillips equaliser dented Arsenal’s title hopes.
Gunners manager Arsene Wenger must now rally his side for Wednesday’s clash against the team who won an unprecedented treble of Spanish league, cup and Champions League last season.
“Will it be hard to lift the players up for Barcelona? Yes, it is always hard to pick the players up when you get caught like that at the end of a game,” said Wenger.
“We are on a run that is very difficult and where we have no room for error at all so the result at Birmingham was a big disappointment.
“It felt like a defeat but the game against Barcelona is in a different competition and we have a few days to recover and prepare.”
The match is a repeat of the 2006 final – which Barca won 2-1 – and has several other sub-plots.
Cesc Fabregas is taking on the club where he was nurtured before leaving to join Arsenal at 16, while Barcelona striker Thierry Henry will be up against the team for which he scored 226 goals.
“I’m very emotional, but also staying calm,” said Henry. “It will be a strange game for me.
“Before the draw I said that I did not want to face Arsenal. That was my wish. But now that’s the game we’ve got and we’ll have to give everything.
“It’s very special. To return home is strange and even more so in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.”
Providing he is passed fit, Fabregas is relishing the chance to take on his boyhood club, where he played in the same youth team as Barca duo Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.
“I know they will be two exciting games,” he said.
“We will, of course, give everything, and you know if you want to win the competition, you have to be ready to play anyone.” (BBC Sport)
This is a game that most neutrals would have hoped to see and one that has many side issues that make the tie even more drool worthy. Barcelona are clearly still the team to beat even if they are not top of La Liga they are still a side chock a block full of talented superstars but Arsene Wenger will believe, quite rightly, that his Emirates side has the ability on its day to beat the Catalan giants.
If indeed Cesc Fabregas does not recorver in time for Tuesday nights encounter then Arsenal could struggle such is the importance to the team of the Gunners skipper. Barcelona’s loss of Andrea Iniesta will have a similar effect so that in many ways evens out things. Thierry Henry will of course get a warm reception at the north London club that he was a legend and the Frenchman, as well as in form Leo Messi, will be players the Arsenal defence will have to play close attention to.
Wenger may well have no choice but to drop serial blunderer Manuel Almunia for this encounter but then opting for Fabianski could well be a problematic decision also given that in both Champions League matches that the Pole has started Arsenal have lost, so perhaps Vito Mannone would be an option?
Arsenal are on a good run of form, despite the last minute dropped points at St Andrews’, so do not rule out them purring to victory in the home leg and clearly if Wenger has any hope of progress he can not afford to come away from the Emirates with any type of defeat or indeed a goal scoring draw.
My Bet of the Day for this encounter would be on Arsenal to edge Barca 2-1 at odds of 10/1. Also I would fancy a flutter on Samir Nasri to score first at odds of 12/1. The Frenchman has been in fine form of late so the odds are pretty decent.
My Prediction: 2-1 to Arsenal.