Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Wenger in Fabregas waiting game as Arsenal prepare for Barcelona

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and midfielder Cesc Fabregas

Arsene Wenger is so desperate to have Cesc Fabregas in his side to take on Barcelona tonight that he is prepared to wait right up until the warm up at the Emirates before he makes his final decision on the player's fitness.

Wenger clearly feels that having the classy Spaniard in his ranks will give him the best possible chance of overcoming the European champions in tonight’s Champions League quarter-final first leg in London.

However, the Frenchman made it clear that his young Gunners are far from a one man team and even without Fabregas, there is enough talent in the squad to make it through to the semi-finals with Wenger insisting that on their day they can ‘beat any team in the world.’

Fabregas, who started his career at the Nou Camp, is a major doubt for the game after sustaining heavy bruising to his leg and knee during the Barclays Premier League clash at Birmingham on Saturday, where the Gunners were denied victory by Kevin Phillip's goal deep into stoppage time to hit their title hopes.

And the Gunners boss is not prepared to take any risks.

“We will give ourselves 24 hours more and we will assess the situation, but if the match were today, Cesc would not be able to play,” said Wenger. “Sometimes you do not want to take a gamble because 24 hours more can help.

“If he is full capacity tomorrow, we will play him.

“The medical staff tell me there is still a chance he will be available, but that will decided in the warm up tomorrow night, which tells you how late we will leave it.

“I would say 60 per cent against, 40 per cent for him playing.

“However, if he is not capable to play, I would not even put him on the bench. We have 19 players in the squad, that means I have considered the possibility of ruling him out completely.”

Wenger revealed the former Barca youth player did not want to miss out on such a big, and personally emotional, occasion.

“Cesc is desperate to play in every single game,” said the Arsenal boss, “and who wouldn't want to play in a game like tomorrow?

“He always wants to play every day and I believe it is the mark of a great player that they want to do that and are happy when they do.

“He wanted to run off the injury on Saturday. I will know tomorrow whether I made a mistake or not in keeping him on the pitch.”

Wenger maintains his youngsters will be up to the challenge against the European Cup holders and favourites, who can call upon a star-studded squad led by Ar

gentina international Lionel Messi and with a certain former Arsenal skipper Thierry Henry also now at the Nou Camp.

“What you want from your team is not to worry too much about the strengths of Barcelona, but more focus on our strengths and our qualities,” Wenger said.

“We must be brave, go for it and then we have every chance.”

The Gunners boss continued: “I do not deny their quality, because Barcelona have an exceptional team — but we are an exceptional team as well.

“The form of the day, the desire, the belief, how much we play for each other will make the difference. We have, of course, to cancel their strengths, but Barcelona will have the same problem.

“They are an individual and collective threat, but so are we.

“I am confident we can respond to the expectation of all people who love football, but also our fans because they want us to do something special and we want to deliver that.

“If we produce the best performance, then we can we can beat any side in the world.”

Henry, now 32, joined Barcelona in the summer of 2007, after a superb Arsenal career which saw him lead the side against the Spaniards in the previous season's Champions League final.

Despite now being utilised more often from the bench by

Josep Guardiola, Wenger maintains: “Thierry is still a threat because he is an exceptional talent.

“We are happy to see him back at the Emirates and he will get the warm welcome he deserves.

“However, when the game starts it will be a quarter-final of the Champions League where we will of course give everything to beat him.”

Despite the doubt over Fabregas' availability, there was some positive news from Arsenal's Hertfordshire training complex yesterday as William Gallas joined in with the rest of the squad.

The centre-half has been missing for eight matches because of a calf injury, and his return gives Wenger another option at the heart of the defence should he opt to rest Sol Campbell as Thomas Vermaelen is available again following a domestic one-match ban.

“He looks physically quite good,” Wenger revealed. “William has had three days training, so now I will have to have a chat with him and then decide.

“I have not picked the team yet, but he has a chance.”

Arsenal v Barcelona: Key battles

NICKLAS BENDTNER v CARLES PUYOL

Bendtner has returned to form in recent weeks, netting a crucial winner at Hull as well as a European hat-trick in the 5-0 thrashing of Porto and gives Arsenal a real physical presence in attack. However, against Barca skipper Puyol, the young forward is unlikely to be given much room for manoeuvre and could be set for a real lesson from the veteran Spain defender.

ALEX SONG v XAVI

With captain Cesc Fabregas struggling to be fit because of a leg problem, Cameroon international Song could well be given extra responsibility at the heart of the Gunners midfield, and will be out to stop the supply line to Barcelona's forwards. Xavi, though, is a master of his craft and is unlikely to give away any cheap possession in key areas.

THOMAS VERMAELEN v LIONEL MESSI

Belgian centre-back Vermaelen has been one of the most consistent performers since arriving in the summer from Ajax, and has effortlessly made the step up in class. However, he — and the rest of the Gunners back line — will be tested to the limit by brilliant Argentinian Messi, widely regarded as the best player in the world.



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