Arsenal v Barcelona: Will Wenger spring a selection surprise in the Nou Camp?
Replacement for injured Song in midfield is manager’s key decision
Arsene Wenger is facing a selection dilemma in tonight’s Champions League tie in the Nou Camp as he ponders which 11 players to give the task of trying to knock out Barcelona.
The Gunners will run out tonight in Spain defending their 2-1 advantage from the first leg boosted by the return of captain Cesc Fabregas in midfield.
However injuries deny Wenger of the availability of two players who started the first leg, Alex Song and Theo Walcott, while a third, Robin van Persie, is likely to only start on the bench.
Who replaces the Dutchman up front is one of Wenger’s pivotal decisions tonight, as is the replacement for Song in the defensive midfield role.
Wenger hinted in his press conference last night that he may be considering a surprise selection, and playing Denilson in front of the back four.
“[That role is suited] more to [Abou] Diaby or Denilson,” said Wenger. “We will not want to keep [Jack] Wilshere in a purely defensive role. That is one of the things to sort out.”
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The Brazilian has struggled for form and regular football this season and was substituted after an hour of Saturday’s goalless draw with Sunderland. But Wenger was quick to jump to the player’s defence.
“It wasn’t one of his best performances but I feel that Deni doesn’t get the credit he deserves and he always works hard for the team,” said Wenger last night.
“It was difficult for the midfielders on Saturday because they [Sunderland] marked us very tight and we only found space in the last 20 minutes. He had given a lot.”
The other option isDiaby. The Frenchman was also substituted after a poor display against the Black Cats last weekend, but is a more attack-minded player who could help drive the side forward.
Ironically both players started last year’s game in the Nou Camp, when the Gunners were outclassed and beaten 4-1, a night when Wenger was without Fabregas, Van Persie and Song.
Nicklas Bendtner was given a starting role in that game last April, and could be handed the striker’s berth tonight, although Marouane Chamakh is another option for Wenger.
The Morocco international scored his first goal since November in last week’s 5-0 FA Cup win over Leyton Orient, and Wenger believes he is returning to his early-season form after a disappointing spell.
“Marouane’s getting back to his best, and getting sharper,” admitted Wenger, who will put Van Persie on the bench with a view to him playing some part if needed.
Andrey Arshavin, whose goal separates the sides after the first leg, is set to start on the left flank, with Samir Nasri on the right side of the attacking three.
If the Gunners lose 1-0 tonight, they will go out on the away goals rule. Any draw will of course see the Gunners qualify while a 2-1 defeat will see extra time and possibly penalties if no goals are scored in the extra half-hour. A 3-2 defeat, or similar high-scoring one-goal loss, and Arsenal would go through on away goals.
Probable Arsenal team: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Diaby, Wilshere, Fabregas, Arshavin, Nasri, Chamakh.