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Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Arsenal keep Barcelona guessing on Robin van Persie

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Venue: Nou Camp Date: Tuesday, 8 March Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: BBC Sport website, BBC Radio 5 live and Live on Sky Sports 1

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I'm very bad at mind games - Wenger

Arsenal will keep Barcelona guessing on the fitness of Robin van Persie ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash.

Dutchman Van Persie had been expected to miss the last-16 second-leg having not played since injuring his knee in the Carling Cup final on 27 February.

The striker travelled to Spain and will be assessed on Tuesday but the Gunners will not reveal news about his fitness until the team sheets are handed in.

Meanwhile, boss Arsene Wenger is "90%" sure Cesc Fabregas will be fit.

The pair had initial fitness tests on Monday ahead of the Nou Camp meeting in which Arsenal will hope to defend a 2-1 lead.

Uefa Champions League rules state team sheets must be completed and signed by both teams before being handed to the referee at least 75 minutes before kick-off.

Wenger denied the announcement that Van Persie could feature in the match was a ploy to disrupt Barcelona's preparations, adding: "He has made quick progress. It is no mind game - I am not good at those.

"Whether he has been included in the squad has not yet been decided. He has made quick progression in the last three days.

"[On Monday morning] he was unlikely to travel, but he wanted to go, so he had a test and it was quite positive.

Xavi tussles with Jack Wilshere
Wilshere is lucky because we have many players like him in the second team with us but it is simple to play with Arsenal because they have no pressure to win titles as quickly as possible

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola

"We will not take a gamble in a game of such importance. It will be fit or not fit. Personally I would like him to play if possible, but I will only play him if he is 100% fit."

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola admits he would be happy to see both Van Persie and Gunners' captain Fabregas in the Arsenal team.

"I would like all the best players to be out there and for everyone to see an exciting match," he said. "If he plays then that is great as it is good for football but if not then they have plenty of other good replacements in attack."

Fabregas has missed three games with a hamstring injury picked up in the Premier League win over Stoke on 23 February and Wenger said the return of the former Barcelona graduate was "vital - he is important [linking] attack and defence".

The Spain World Cup winner, who left Barcelona for north London as a teenager, is set to return for the Gunners on Tuesday.

Fabregas played and scored as Arsenal drew 2-2 with Barca in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final last year but a broken leg meant he missed the 4-1 defeat at the Nou Camp which gave the Catalan side victory.

But the midfielder, who has repeatedly been linked with a move back to Barcelona, denied he has a point to prove in his home province.

"I am not here to shut up comments or to beat anyone specifically or whatever," said Fabregas.

"I am just here to win for Arsenal football club.

"Sometimes I don't understand these reactions or comments about people saying I want this or I feel this. I want to win for Arsenal and that's it. That's easy for me.

"I don't put anything extra in my head because I play against Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

"It is a special game for everyone because it is a special stadium and we play against a good team and that's it. It's one more game that we want to win.

"There is nothing more to it than that - we just want to go through and get to the quarter-final."

In Fabregas' absence, Arsenal were held to a goalless draw at home by Sunderland on Saturday as they looked to put pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United.

But while Wenger should be able to call on a player he referred to as "the leader of the team", he faces a number of other selection headaches.

Guardiola compares Wilshere to Barca 'B' team

Jack Wilshere has declared himself fit, despite picking up an ankle knock at the weekend and on Tuesday he said on Twitter: "Big game tonight and I am buzzing for it! Can see the stadium from my hotel room and its massive!!"

Wilshere's midfield partner Alex Song is set to miss out with a knee injury and Wenger also has to do without winger Theo Walcott, who was injured against Stoke.

Wenger confirmed: "Alex Song is completely out. He had a test on Sunday morning and it was negative. Wilshere will be fit. Everybody else who played on Saturday should be available."

Wilshere, 19, is considered one of the hottest prospects in English football and impressed in the first leg against Barcelona. But Guardiola suggested the Englishman would struggle to break into the Barca first-team.

"Wilshere is a top player, he has been a big surprise," said Guardiola.

"I didn't know him at the beginning of the season but I have seen him in many, many games now.

"He is lucky because we have many players like him in the second team with us but it is simple to play with Arsenal because they have time and have no pressure to win titles as quick as possible."

Arsenal came up against an inspired Lionel Messi in Barcelona last season as the Argentina forward scored all four of his side's goals in the Nou Camp.

To counter Messi, Wenger could deploy a defensive formation in Spain with van Persie - if deemed fit to start - or Nicklas Bendtner in front of a five-man midfield with much resting on the performance of Samir Nasri.

However Wenger insisted his side would not be able to rest on their lead.

"We need some fresh legs for the Nou Camp because we will have to run a lot," Wenger explained. "But we do not have enough security to sit back and defend. You can't go to Barcelona, play for a 0-0 and not try to score. It is also not the personality of this team.

"We will look to defend well and attack well. We are not a team that will refuse to attack, we know that. The challenge will be to find the right balance between having a team who can defend, as well as one that has a good opportunity, every time it has the ball, to go forward."

Barcelona's Javier Mascherano has warned his team-mates not to underestimate Arsenal.

"They are not stupid. They have an advantage and they will try to protect that lead. They will come to defend," said the former Liverpool midfielder.

"We can't make the mistake of thinking that, just because they know how to play attacking football, they don't know how to defend.

"The problem is that when they have the ball they will try to play football - because of the players and the coach they have."

Barcelona will be unable to field either of their first-choice central defenders, with captain Carles Puyol out with a knee injury and and Gerard Pique suspended.

Defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets is likely to partner Eric Abidal at centre-back for the three-time European champions but the loss of Spain captain Puyol will be felt keenly by the Catalan outfit.

"His character makes him the soul of this team," said full-back Dani Alves.

"With the quality we have we'll try to miss him a little less. But his qualities make him irreplaceable."

Meanwhile, Guardiola has been suffering his own injury problems. The 40-year-old coach has a herniated disc in his back and was set to spend Monday night in hospital for treatment.

However, Guardiola is expected to be on the touchline on Tuesday.



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see also
Nasri primed for Barca test
07 Mar 11 |  Arsenal
Gilles Grimandi on Samir Nasri
24 Aug 11 |  Man City
Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (agg 4-3)
08 Mar 11 |  Europe
Barca & AC Milan earn narrow wins
07 Mar 11 |  Europe
Arsenal lose Van Persie & Walcott
01 Mar 11 |  Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona
16 Feb 11 |  Europe


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