Camp Nou, Barcelona
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Channel; Fox Soccer Plus and foxsoccer.tv after 5 PM
SBN Barcelona coverage: Barca Blaugranes
Arsenal are in Spain to take on La Liga Champions Barcelona in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 match at the Camp Nou tomorrow. Arsenal come into the match with a 2-1 lead from the top-shelf first leg, but will nonetheless be underdogs against a Barca side that is almost impossible to top at their home. The big news is that Robin van Persie will be in the 18-man squad, although it is not certain that he will start.
Arsenal will also have the services of a "90 percent" Cesc Fabregas, according to Arsène Wenger on the official website. Jack Wilshere has a slight ankle knock, but he's fit to play. The only major piece missing for Arsenal will be Alex Song, whose knee problem has ruled him out.
The injury news for Barcelona is equally interesting, however. The club's official website is reporting that defender Carlos Puyol is out for tomorrow, which, together with the suspension for Gerard Pique, will result in some interesting things going on at the back. It is a big gap, however, that an attacking team like Arsenal will hope to exploit. It will be interesting to see, too, whether Pep Guardiola disbands his famous midfield three and moves Sergio Busquets to the back line next to Eric Abidal, or whether he decides to bring in a reserve from the B team.
It will be interesting to see if Wenger decides to start van Persie and try to score early in the hopes of drawing Barcelona into an even-more attacking stance, or whether he will look to contain Barca at first before bringing on van Persie in the second half; indeed, he may not even risk van Persie at all. Given his nature, however, it seems likely that if the Dutchman is at his disposal, he will opt to use him and try to score. Nicklas Bendtner lurks, however, and has already scored once at the Camp Nou in his time. One suspects perhaps that the Dane will get the starting nod and Wenger will see how it goes from there. van Persie must remain healthy for the Premier League run-in, one would think.
Regardless of what Arsenal do, and regardless of who Barca have at the back, containing Lionel Messi is the key problem for any side facing the Catalans. Messi was a bit of a problem in the first leg, drifting in between the lines as he does. Figuring out how to restrict his space without getting drawn too far out of position is the Gordian knot that Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou will have to unravel, and without Alex Song to motor around, the question becomes particularly tricky.