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Dream-theatre: Arsenal, Barca set to enthrall

Arsene Wenger has no intention of sacrificing his principles to blunt Barcelona and instead is backing his Arsenal team’s ability to outpass Spain’s pass masters in their Champions League last-16 tie.

sports Updated: Feb 15, 2011 22:53 IST

Arsene Wenger has no intention of sacrificing his principles to blunt Barcelona and instead is backing his Arsenal team’s ability to outpass Spain’s pass masters in their Champions League last-16 tie.

Having tried to play Barca at their own game in last season’s quarter-finals and come unstuck with a 6-3 aggregate defeat, Wenger says his team are better equipped to have another crack, beginning with Wednesday’s first leg at The Emirates.

The Spaniards found things tougher in last year’s semi-final when Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan sat deep and let Barcelona play in front of them, only getting involved when danger threatened.

The tactic paid off as Inter triumphed 3-2 on aggregate having limited Pep Guardiola’s side to a solitary late goal in a 1-0 win at the Nou Camp in the second leg.

Wenger said on Tuesday he would stick with the approach that has been his career trademark, paving the way for a match that could set new records for the number of passes made.

“To be faithful to our philosophy, make sure we dominate the game, that we pass the ball and have possession of the ball and if we are capable of doing that we have a very good chance,” he said.

Last season Barcelona led 2-0 at the Emirates and though Arsenal fought back to draw 2-2 and then led the away leg 1-0, four goals by Lionel Messi sent the Spaniards through.

Wenger, whose side also lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final, said the defeat would be a help rather than a hindrance.

The Arsenal manager is unlikely to repeat the gamble that backfired three weeks ago when Nasri aggravated the injury after starting against Huddersfield in the FA Cup.

Czech international Tomas Rosicky is available after a groin injury but fellow midfielder Abou Diaby has been ruled out haing injured his calf on international duty last week.

Fellow Frenchman Bacary Sagna is suspended, with Emmanuel Eboue expected to step in at right back.

Barcelona meanwhile are likely to be without central defender Carles Puyol as they aim to bounce back from the disappointment of seeing their record-breaking run of 16 straight victories in La Liga come to an end in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Gijon at the weekend. Barca winger Pedro Rodriguez agreed with Wenger that Arsenal were a stronger side from the one beaten last season. “It will be a very difficult tie, different from last year as maybe they are more dangerous,” Pedro said.

“They are in very good form. They have great players, especially up front. They have Cesc and (Robin) Van Persie, who is in very good form.

“It will be a nice game, open, and one where we hope to get a good result.”

roma focussed on champions league

MILAN: AS Roma are in such shaky form they must struggle to remember how lucky they felt when Shakhtar Donetsk were plucked out of the hat as their opponents for Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg.

A sticking point has been coach Claudio Ranieri’s deteriorating relationship with captain Francesco Totti.

The 34-year-old striker is now a shadow of his former self and is no longer guaranteed a start with Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic offering more speed and power.

Ranieri is likely to select Totti against the Ukrainians while France centre back Philippe Mexes and Argentina’s Nicolas Burdisso are back from domestic bans to relieve the recently error-prone Juan. Adriano is injured.

The Ukraine league’s winter break from November to March 5 means Shakhtar have not played an official match since Dec. 8 when they defeated Sporting Braga 2-0 to top the group and progress to the Champions League last 16 for the first time.

Vasyl Kobin will miss the first leg because of an Achilles tendon injury as will Olexandr Kucher with a knee problem.

Influential Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is back from a broken leg but coach Mircea Lucescu only expects him to be fully fit for the second leg against Roma in Donetsk on March 8.