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Barcelona star Iniesta's injury lifts Arsenal after Birmingham setback

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29 Mar 2010 10:00:13

Barcelona star Iniesta's injury lifts Arsenal after Birmingham setback

Huge loss: Midfielder Andres Iniesta was Barcelona's match-winner at Chelsea in last season's Champions League semi-finals Twelve hours after boarding the Barcelona team bus without a hint of a limp or visible pain, Andres Iniesta was yesterday morning ruled out of Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Arsenal. Iniesta picked up a hamstring strain at Real Mallorca on Saturday night during Barcelona's 1-0 win and was withdrawn just after half time. But Barca manager Pep Guardiola called Iniesta's problem 'slight' after the game and did not appear to expect to lose such a valuable player, scorer of that unforgettable strike in last season's semi-final at Stamford Bridge. The early diagnosis that Iniesta will also miss the second leg a week tomorrow is further good news for Arsenal. Sergi Busquets, suspended for the Mallorca match, is likely to step in on Wednesday night. Iniesta had a quiet 49 minutes before being replaced by Lionel Messi, but his team-mates were also subdued. Mallorca struck the woodwork three times in the first half, as a shaky Barca became steady but never spectacular. Guardiola had left Xavi on the bench too, but he followed Messi on to the pitch just past the hour and two minutes later supplied the corner from which Zlatan Ibrahimovic poked in the only goal. Guardiola was preserving limbs and energy for Wednesday. Gerard Pique missed out too - not even making the bench - but was given a lengthy, if undemanding, fitness test beforehand and will surely start at Gabriel Milito's expense against Arsenal. Pinching the win: Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores against Mallorca Wednesday is the start of an intense 10-day test that will shapeBarca's season. As well as the two Arsenal games, there is a trip toReal Madrid on Sunday week. In between, there is another La Liga game against sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao, who drew against Barca in November. Mallorca began the night in the fourth Champions League spot. Guardiola recognised their rise with a 4-1-4-1 formation in which Yaya Toure sat in front of the back four. That helped the visitors defensively - though not as much as the uprights - but also sapped some of their natural attacking rhythm. Right back Daniel Alves did his best to stimulate his colleagues, while occasionally leaving room behind him. At left back, Maxwell delivered a flawed display that will have been noted by Arsene Wenger's scout. Rested: Lionel Messi was a second-half substitute in Barca's win There were first-half chances for Milito and Ibrahimovic, but Barca improved once Messi and Xavi arrived and they shifted to 4-4-2. The formation gave Ibrahimovic more support and he then scored for the third game in a row. He said: 'It was a difficult game, Mallorca are doing very well at home in La Liga and they are playing for a Champions League spot. Now we have Arsenal waiting for us. It's a massive game. It will be exciting - two teams that want to play football. Wenger's philosophy, the way he thinks, is more or less the way that Barca plays.' Matter-of-factly, Ibrahimovic called Barca 'favourites' against Arsenal and, of the challenge of becoming the first side to defend a Champions League title successfully, he added: 'It's not easy. We have a lot of pressure, of course, but if we can be healthy and focused like we are, I'm not worried.' However, it required a brave intervention from Victor Valdes to deny Aritz Aduriz late on and, for all the strengths of La Liga, Mallorca ended the night 27 points adrift of Barca. If Arsenal play like they can, this might be deemed inappropriate preparation.  Barcelona were knocked off top spot in La Liga by Real Madrid, who beat city rivals Atletico 3-2 last night. Jose Antonio Reyes put Atletico ahead but Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Gonzalo Higuain fired in three quick Real goalsbefore Diego Forlan replied from the penalty spot. Fabregas says Arsenal can beat Barca to reach Champions League semi-finalsGary Lineker: Messi's a genius but he's not the biggest danger for ArsenalCATCH UP WITH ALL THE LATEST FROM THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL HEREARSENAL FC


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