x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Barcelona coach checks out of hospital in attack mode against Arsenal

Arsenal boosted as Van Persie named in squad to face Barca, and Wenger insists it is not a mind game ploy.

Cesc Fabregas, left, is rated with a 90 per cent chance of facing Barcelona, while Jack Wilshere, centre, has declared himself fit. Scott Heavey / Getty Images
Cesc Fabregas, left, is rated with a 90 per cent chance of facing Barcelona, while Jack Wilshere, centre, has declared himself fit. Scott Heavey / Getty Images

BARCELONA // Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, tonight faces one of his toughest challenges since taking over at Camp Nou in 2008.

Guardiola's reign has been glorious, but his much-vaunted team have to overturn a 2-1 deficit to Arsenal to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Guardiola, who last night discharged himself from hospital with a back problem, said: "We had a lot of trouble in the first leg and we have to turn it around. It's a great challenge for us to get to the quarter-finals again and we saviour these moments. We will attack."



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"Arsenal are consistently in the latter stages of the Champions League and it's always a pleasure to play them," added Guardiola, before warning: " If we don't play at a high level or we lose our head for ten minutes, we're out."

Despite injuries to key players Alex Song and Theo Walcott, Arsenal were boosted when Robin van Persie was yesterday named in their 19-man squad.

The Dutch striker was expected to miss the game after manager Arsene Wenger ruled him out for up to a month because of a knee injury, but Van Persie trained with the Gunners before travelling to Catalunya. Midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, who had both been injury doubts, were also included in the squad, which will be cut down to 18.

Agencies add: "He's made quick progress in the last three days," Wenger said last night from the Camp Nou. "When I spoke to you this morning it was very unlikely for him to travel, but then his test this morning was quite positive. Tomorrow morning I will make a decision whether we include him or not."

Wenger dismissed suggestions that his inclusion was a ruse. "I'm very bad at mind games – it's not mind games. I would like him to play if it's possible, but I will only play him if he's 100 percent fit," Wenger said. "We will not take a gamble on a game of that importance. It will have to be either fit or not fit."

Captain Cesc Fabregas was "very surprised" by Van Persie's inclusion. "If he's fit to play that will be very good."


"We won't look for a draw," said Wilshere. "It will be an open game and we will create chances. We are looking to score and then see what happens. We realise we have to defend well and hit them on the counter-attack."

His thoughts were echoed by Wenger, who said: "We'll try to score when we get the ball. We've not enough security to sit back and defend. You can't go to Barcelona, play for a 0-0 and not try to score. We know now we can beat Barcelona. If we do it again, we have a good chance of winning the tournament."

Arsenal's slender lead combined with Barca's formidable home form makes the Catalans favourites.

"We will have our crowd behind us and, while Arsenal don't have the best away record, they will be very dangerous counter-attacking," said Sergio Busquets, the Barcelona defensive midfielder.

"They're a young yet experienced team, but we shouldn't get nervous because 90 minutes is a long time. It's the most important game so far this season, but 1-0 would be enough." The versatile Busquets is likely to play as a central defender alongside Eric Abidal in the absence of the suspended Gerard Pique and his usual foil Carles Puyol, who has missed Barça's last ten games with a knee injury.

Club captain Puyol was on the bench in Saturday's narrow victory over Zaragoza and watched Pique, alongside centre-half Gabriel Milito, who has slowed after two years of serious injuries and is unlikely to be risked against Arsenal's pace.

"They are two important losses for us," said Busquets. "The decision won't be made until the last minute, but I'm always prepared, always ready. It's not my usual position but I can play there."

Busquets played as a defender in last week's 1-0 victory at Valencia and he's feeling confident. "I don't think about elimination," he said. "I only think about winning."



11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +3 & +4