Van Persie’s shock inclusion in Arsenal squad to face Spanish giants Barcelona gives Gunners a major boost


ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger insists Robin van Persie will only face Barcelona if he is fully fit after springing a huge shock by naming the striker in his squad for tonight’s eagerly-awaited Champions League contest.

Van Persie was not expected to return from a knee injury until the end of the month but was an 11th-hour addition to the party that flew to Catalonia yesterday and is set to feature in the last-16, second leg match if he passes a fitness test this morning.

Only last week Wenger declared the Dutchman faced a minimum three weeks out with a ligament tear suffered in the Carling Cup final, but he maintains he won’t risk a further setback in order to see off Barca and reach the quarter-finals.

“We are 19 here in the squad. Whether Van Persie will be included has not been decided yet,” said Wenger. “He has made quick progress in the last three days. This [yesterday] morning he was really unlikely to travel. He wanted to have a go. We made a test and it was quite positive. We will see how he responds and I will make a decision tomorrow [Tuesday] morning. We will not take a gamble in a game of that importance. So he will have to be fit or not fit.”

The Spanish champions and current league leaders are favourites to progress despite Arsenal’s 2-1 first-leg lead, and Wenger denied he was seeking to gain a psychological advantage with a selection that no-one had anticipated.

“I am very bad at mind games,” added Wenger. “The whole truth is what I have given you here. We’ll see tomorrow morning. The medical team will assess him and I would like him to play. But I will only play him if he is 100 per cent fit. OK, I will consider 99.5.”

Wenger refused to risk Cesc Fabregas, who returns tonight, in the Carling Cup final on 28 February, despite his captain’s plea to play, and explained that the nature of the Spaniard’s injury made his selection more dangerous than Van Persie’s.

“Cesc had a muscle problem. Robin has a ligament problem,” said Wenger, who is without midfielder Alex Song and winger Theo Walcott. “There is more risk for a muscle problem. So it is just whether he feels he is fit to play or not.”

Fabregas insists Camp Nou return is strictly business
ARSENAL captain Cesc Fabregas insists he has nothing to prove to his Barcelona suitors as he prepares to make an emotional return to the Camp Nou this evening.

The Catalan native left Barcelona’s fabled La Masia training academy to join Arsenal as a fifteen-year-old in search of first team football.

Fabregas has regularly been linked with a move back to Barcelona, particularly last summer when the Spanish champions launched an aggressive, but ultimately unsuccessful pursuit.

Despite the intense scrutiny he will be under tonight, Fabregas is insists that the only thing on his mind is ensuring Arsenal progress to the last eight of the Champions League.

He said: “I am not here to shut up comments or to beat anyone specifically,” he said. “I am just here to win for Arsenal. 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.

“I don’t put anything extra in my head because I play against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. It is a special game for everyone because it is a special stadium and we play against a good team. That’s it. It's one more game that we want to win.”