"The best wedges are made out of the same wood as the door's", goes a Spanish saying. In a footballing world so enamoured of FC Barcelona, Francesc Fàbregas finds himself in the curious situation of being a player who'd probably be a substitute at the current Barça squad (as he is often at a Barça-dominated Spain national team), but at the same time he is the best-equipped player to deal with the Catalans' threat. And this not just because of his footballing nous: he knows when to go to ground too. Just look at the way he got an edge-of-the-box free kick out of Gerard Piqué and a penalty out of Carles Puyol, ruling both of them out of the return match in the process (and by the way, it's Fàbregas who actually kicks Puyol in the leg, then goes down).
So, three Catalans will be suspended for the decisive match at the Nou Camp, and all three players will be sorely missed. In a team so forward-looking as Barcelona, it's easy to forget about their defenders, but Puyol and Piqué are an awesome pair, able to deal on their own with most of what the opposing team throws at them, while the rest have all the fun and goals. Substitutes Gabriel Milito and Rafael Márquez just aren't the same. As for Arsenal, if Andrey Arshavin's injury makes him unable to play too, the Gunners would be left with Theo Walcott as their main weapon and praying for the good Bendtner twin to show up.
Honestly, I don't think Arsenal will do it. Away from home and without Fabregas, they are not likely to play better than they did last night, while Barcelona can and will play better. They are at home, with a good away-goals cushion, and they only have to score chances no more difficult than the ones that got away at the Emirates. Leo Messi, for one, will be raring to go after drawing a blank this time.
The only way through I see Arsenal progressing, is if the substitute defenders have an awful day, maybe including a red card, or a typical Víctor Valdés blunder. He's the type of goalkeeper who has a brilliant day when you start thinking he's rubbish, and then he lets in a howler or three when you start thinking he's actually quite good. Today he managed to do both, as he often does: a couple of very good saves, and then Walcott's goal goes right through him. Arsenal should counter attack with, pace - lots of it - and test Valdés as much as they can, rather than attempt to walk the ball into the net.
If it's any consolation, you can still rant at Zlatan Ibrahimovic's inability to score against English teams. Arsenal being Arsenal, there wasn't an Englishman in the starting XI - so don't count the Swede's brace if you don't want to. But today he showed the kind of thinking that made Guardiola bring him in. His first goal has that jazzy, unpredictable quality born from someone who thinks outside of the box - and then walks into it and delivers.
Javier Sierra en el Parador de Sigüenza
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