Belfast Telegraph

Champions League: Can Arsenal stop Messi?

By John Kerr

Fired-up Arsene Wenger today spelt out out what it would mean for his Arsenal side to overcome mighty Barcelona in the Nou Camp tonight.

“If you speak to any player, they would give their lives to win this game,” the Arsenal boss said with intensity.

The Gunners hold a 2-1 first leg advantage in their bid to secure the prize of a Champions League last eight place and the tournament’s most notable scalp.

But that will require a superhuman effort on an even greater level than their famous Emirates victory two weeks ago against Barca’s team of all talents, none more brilliant and lethal than Argentinian star Lionel Messi. Halting him would go a long way to fulfilling Arsenal’s ambitions.

But strangulation is not in the nature of Wenger or his team and their natural desire to express their attacking style promises another classic contest.

If the prospect doesn’t heighten anticipation, check your pulse.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola has already stirred the pot by suggesting new Arsenal whizz kid Jack Wilshere would only be good enough to make the Catalans’ second string, though some would regard that as a compliment.

Wenger’s big decision surrounds the fitness of Dutch striker Robin van Persie, the feeling being the game has come too soon for his return from injury.

The Arsenal boss hinted as much when he said: “We will not take a gamble in a game of this importance, so he will have to be fit or not fit. I would like him to play. But I will only play him if he is 100% fit.”

Barcelona are without their first-choice central defenders tonight as captain Carles Puyol has failed to recover from a knee injury while Gerard Pique is suspended.

Midfielder Sergio Busquets is set to drop back to help out in defence, meaning former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano should get a rare start.

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