Arsenal’s eagerly anticipated tie with Barcelona nears with Wednesday’s game seeing two of the most enjoyable footballing sides take the pitch for the first time since the 2005 Champions League final. Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Xavi are all expected to take part for Barcelona and a plethora of talents are also vying for spots in Arsenal’s team. However, with Henry set to face his old club for the first time since his elopement to Spain in 2007, Barcelona’s old player, Cesc Fabregas, may not take part.
Fabregas is the quintessential Arsenal player under Arsene Wenger – smart, small, skilful and most importantly, an absolute genius on the football pitch. He is Arsenal’s captain but his captaincy is different to Barcelona’s Carlos Puyol as Cesc leads through example of the pitch rather than vocal chords. Without a doubt, the combination of no captain and no best player will affect Arsenal’s chances of beating the current holders of the UEFA Champions League. Of the matter, Arsene Wenger said: “He didn’t appear in training because at the moment he is not fit to play, we give ourselves 24 hours more and we will assess the situation tomorrow, but today he would not be available.” Sentiment aside, the loss of Fabregas could be a damning indictment of Arsenal’s reliance on the Spaniard. Consistently this season, he has been the rouse for Arsenal – his influence has led to vital points being gained, most notably his cameo against Aston Villa towards the end of December.
Fabregas’ importance has been increased this season through the loss of Robin van Persie to injury. As with all top clubs, if Fabregas – their best player – was not at the top of his game, Arsenal would be struggling massively. Wenger, Fabregas’ tutor and manager, has suggested the youngster’s improvement is down to his new philosophy of calmness: “I believe he is more relaxed. There is less tension in his finishing. You feel that before he wanted to force the chance and now he is more relaxed.” Whatever the reason for his form, Wenger will know that Arsenal’s chances of progressing will increase tenfold with Fabregas in the team.
With the possibility of a Fabregas-less team looming large, Wenger will be looking to his other talents – Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner et al to threaten the Barcelona defence. Some commentators have suggested that Barcelona’s defence is a weak spot. In relation their mind boggling attack, yes, perhaps it is a weak spot but the best goals conceded to games played ratio in Europe’s top leagues suggests otherwise. An in-form Victor Valdes and world-class Dani Alves and Carlos Puyol will be there to block Arsenal’s intricate football. Arshavin may be Arsenal’s biggest threat as he is perhaps the player that can produce a moment of absolute brilliance with no prior warning – previously touted as a Barcelona target, Arshavin will be eager to show Europe what he can do again after some glowing performances in the European Championships of 2008. Nicklas Bendtner has also found form recently and despite being infuriatingly inconsistent in front of goal at times, he still poses a threat to Barcelona.
Quite what Wenger’s expectations from this leg are is unknown. The return leg at the Nou Camp will not be the place to chase a game so ideally, a clean sheet victory will be the ultimate goal but Wenger will be content with any positive result, even if it is a score draw. That contentment will be even greater if one Cesc Fabregas is not in attendance.