Gamble Wenger’s only hope

Trevor Steven
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ARSENE WENGER’S last-minute selection of Robin van Persie has suddenly given Arsenal a sliver of hope for their trip to Barcelona, although I’m afraid to say it will still be the result to end all results if they get through.

It’s hard to find grounds to believe the Gunners will progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, even if they do have a one-goal advantage from the first leg back in north London.

Sure, Barcelona may be without one or both of their regular centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique, who is suspended, and Carles Puyol, who trained yesterday but is likely to be short of fitness.

But they are so good at defending from front to back that I don’t think it will have a major impact. Barca spend all their home games on the front foot anyway, and are likely to do so even more than usual tonight as they chase the win they need.

Arsenal suffered a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Lionel Messi and Barca last time they visited Camp Nou, although I don’t think that will affect them too much. I think they genuinely believe they are better than they were 11 months ago.

My worry is their firepower, or lack of it. With Barca dominating possession, Wenger will need to hit them on the break, but for that you need pace in your attack, and the absence of Theo Walcott is a huge blow in that respect.

On top of that there are doubts throughout the side. Cesc Fabregas will be desperate to impress on home soil but is only 90 per cent fit, and a more realistic source of inspiration is probably Samir Nasri, who has outshone his midfield team-mate for much of the season.

I’m also concerned at Abou Diaby or Denilson filling in for the injured Alex Song in front of the back four. Neither impressed me when I watched them in the goalless draw with Sunderland on Saturday – and Barcelona are no Sunderland – and then there are the defensive uncertainties that resurfaced in the Carling Cup final.

Arsenal’s absences look likely to seriously hurt them. If Fabregas and Van Persie play they have a chance; without them they face elimination.