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Theo Walcott must play fast and loose: Arsenal's pace ace is primed to spook Barcelona

06 Apr 2010 09:21:28

Theo Walcott must play fast and loose: Arsenal's pace ace is primed to spook Barcelona

Arsene Wenger must have been reading the Spanish papers and in particulara comment Andres Iniesta made in the wake of that wonderful first-half performance from Barcelona at the Emirates last Wednesday. 'Praise makes you weak,' warned Iniesta, which might point to why Arsenal's manager has now described the hosts here on Tuesday night as the best team he has ever seen. It has to be the only explanation. The method in the apparent madness. In virtually the same breath Wenger reflected on how his team froze for that first 45 minutes. They were 'in awe' of Barcelona, he said, 'inhibited'. Speed king: Theo Walcott celebrates his goal in the first leg against Barcelona Putting the classy Catalans on such a pedestal would only make sense if he first told his Arsenal players that he was trying to soften up the opposition a bit. Even Theo Walcott was at it. 'That's the best I've ever seen a team play,' said the 21-year-old, before being drawn into a debate about how fast he could cover the 100metres. 'About 10.3, 10.5,' he said before his manager interrupted. 'I do it in 17,' declared Wenger. As Pep Guardiola said, it will make little odds who lines up on Arsenal's right wing and there is no guarantee that Walcott will start if Barcelona play the way they intend to at the Nou Camp. Guardiola was asked how his side would counter the threat of Walcott, having struggled to cope with him in the latter stages of the first leg and his response pretty much said it all. 'The best way to stop a player like Walcott is to keep the ball,' he said. 'Rather than tell the left back to stay tight on him or send a second man in support.'It is not the way this Barcelona team do things under the guidance of Guardiola, a coach who manages to ooze confidence while remaining disarmingly modest. Both sides have been seriously affected by injuries and suspensions but Guardiola does not seem the least bit worried that he goes into the second leg of this Champions League quarter-final without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and centre halves Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. That Iniesta is still a doubt and that his forward line could be led by a 19-year-old. Set to start: Bojan Krkic in place of Thierry Henry Guardiola not only has faith in the baby-faced Bojan Krkic, who is expected to earn selection ahead of the out-of-favour Thierry Henry, but in the two men who will stand at the heart of his defence. Namely Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito. 'When you are in competitions like this you get injuries,' said Guardiola. 'We are not really in a position to complain because we have plenty of players.' Presumably he has Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez in mind. Stopping Xavi is something Wenger recognises as a major factor and Samir Nasri will probably be charged with the task of applying the kind of pressure the Spaniard was not under last week. As Wenger said, they have to 'get tighter' to Barcelona, in particular in that midfield area where the current European and world champions were so dominant. For Arsenal, their list of absentees seems more of an issue. They are key players in key areas. Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin in attack; Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song in midfield; William Gallas in defence. Sol Campbell would appear to be one of the solutions Wenger has in mind but the 35-year-old struggles to play two games in quick succession because of tight hamstrings. In the light of such problems, Wenger is trying to draw on the strength of their character rather than the strength of the Arsenal squad. On the fact that they have secured historic results on their travels in the past. 'Real Madrid and AC Milan,' declared Wenger. He ventured into slightly dangerous territory when he said how this was 'a time of resurrection' but Wenger's intention was not to offend but to remind us of his team's remarkable powers of recovery. Not just last week's fightback to draw 2-2 but the run of late goals that continued against Wolves at the weekend and the manner in which they have defied their critics all season. Let's face it, nobody thought they would still be in the Barclays Premier League title race in April. Wenger and his players aside, nobody gives them a hope. Not when their comeback last week owed as much to Barcelona taking their foot off the gas as Walcott pressing down on the accelerator. Much could depend on how Wenger chooses to deploy Walcott. The feeling here was that the manager would start with Emmanuel PageEboue and save his sprinter for the role of impact substitute. But that could be a mistake. Walcott seems to worry the people of Barcelona and such anxiety can often spread from the terraces into the team and Wenger should try to exploit that. Saving Walcott could prove pointless if Barcelona have the tie sewn up by then. Even Guardiola admitted 15 shots on goal in the first 15 minutes of a Champions League away game was pretty special last week. 'Life is about grabbing the opportunity,' said Wenger defiantly. 'About making history. And our exceptional mental strength makes me confident.' Tonight, Arsenal first need to get the ball but unleashing Walcott from the start would at least give them a half a chance.  Arsenal injury crisis mounts as Alex Song is ruled out of Barcelona Champions League clash Staying alive: We're back from dead, says Arsenal boss Arsene WengerARSENAL FC


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