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Champions League preview: Barcelona v Arsenal

Arsenal face their sternest test of the season when they travel to Barcelona’s Camp Nou in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Arsene Wenger’s side exited the competition at the hands of Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season, losing 6-3 on aggregate after a 4-1 defeat in the second leg in Catalonia.

They were drawn together again in the round of 16 this year, but Arsenal have already gone one better by recording a 2-1 win in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium on February 16.

That narrow victory gave the North London side hope of progressing to the last eight, but since then their season has threatened to derail.

They suffered a shock defeat in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City on February 27, failing to end what is now a six-year drought without a trophy.

To make matters worse, key striker Robin van Persie suffered a knee injury at Wembley, ruling him out of the second match against Barcelona.

Next came a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland on Saturday, a missed opportunity to close the gap on English Premier League leaders Manchester United to just one point.

Arsenal’s failure to collect maximum points gained added significance on Sunday, when United were beaten 3-1 away to Liverpool.

Influential captain Cesc Fabregas is also suffering from a hamstring injury and while he is expected to be fit for the trip to Spain, it remains to be seen if he will be able to perform at his usual level.

Midfielder Alex Song is expected to miss the match after failing to recover from a knee injury he suffered in the Carling Cup final 2-1 loss against Birmingham.

“At the moment it doesn’t look like Alex Song will be fit. He’s not been on the field at all,” Wenger said.

Although scans have shown only bruising, the swelling is considerable.

Song has been one of the few automatic selections in Wenger’s best starting XI over the past two years and his tackling qualities just in front of a central defence already depleted by a long-term injury to Thomas Vermaelen will be keenly missed.

Barcelona have won all four of their La Liga matches since being beaten in London, but are not without problems of their own.

Gerard Pique picked up a yellow card in the first leg that will rule him out of the return through suspension.

His centre-back partner and team captain Carlos Puyol is also out injured, meaning Barca will most likely field either Argentine Gabriel Milito or midfielder Sergio Busquets alongside fullback Eric Abidal as a makeshift defensive pairing.

If Busquets is picked at the back, one of Javier Mascherano or Seydou Keita will deputise in midfield.

Goalkeeper Victor Valdes returned for Barcelona in their 1-0 home win against Real Zaragoza on Saturday, while Andres Iniesta and David Villa were afforded rests on the bench.

Article title: Champions League preview: Barcelona v Arsenal

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