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English Premiership

Gunners to blast through

BARCELONA, April 5- Injury-hit Arsenal believe Barcelona's loss of suspended centre-backs Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique will be key to unlocking the door to the Champions League semi-finals.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side, who came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in the first leg of their quarter-final at the Emirates last week, have been rocked by season-ending injuries to skipper Cesc Fabregas and French defender William Gallas.

But the Gunners believe that the suspensions of Puyol and Pique, who have spent over 4,000 minutes on the pitch in La Liga this season, could prove the downfall of the defending champions at their Nou Camp stronghold on Tuesday.

Puyol was sent off after conceding a late penalty for a foul on Fabregas at the Emirates and Pique was also booked in Arsenal’s late onslaught.

"For any team to be without their two central defenders, the two players who play week-in week-out, you know they are people they build the team around and it is not good for them – it is good for us," said striker Nicklas Bendtner.

"People are expecting it to be a difficult game for both teams. It is going to be a hard game. But we think we can do it. This is a trophy we want to win and to win the Champions League you have to beat the best teams."

Meanwhile, Barcelona defender Eric Abidal would rather victory over Arsenal than success on Saturday in the ‘El Clasico’ against bitter rivals, and Spanish League leaders, Real Madrid.

While the intense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid means that their league meetings are key dates in the La Liga calendar, on this occasion it comes second to the deciding leg of the tie with the North London club.

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"The game against Arsenal is more important than that against Madrid. Our season depends though on this week and it would be much better if we could arrive at the Bernabeu already in the semi-finals of the Champions League," said Abidal.

Barcelona’s comprehensive 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday means that they are still level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table.

"I feel that even if we do lose against Madrid there are still games remaining in which we can battle for the title and so the most important is the Arsenal match," Abidal explained.

"Theo Walcott had a big impact when he came on (in the first leg) but we are not concerned about him. Football is a game in which you play with the ball, he can run the 100m in little over ten seconds but the key is to score goals.

"We will be waiting for him and see whether he can do it with the ball against four defenders."

At the Emirates, Barcelona bossed the midfield with Xavi Hernandez imperious and it meant even a player with the talent of Andres Iniesta, out through injury, was not missed.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola will need a new centre-half partnership and it will likely be Gabi Milito alongside the erratic Dmytro Chygrynskiy with another alternative Yaya Toure also struggling with injury.

While the good news is that Iniesta has been able to train and may be fit to return, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored both goals in London, picked up a thigh strain in the warm-up against Bilbao and is definitely out.

It could mean a starting place for an emotional Thierry Henry against his former club but he will have to battle it out with youngsters Bojan Krkic, who scored twice on Saturday, and Pedro Rodriguez.

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The outcome of the game will depend on a fascinating battle for attacking supremacy between Lionel Messi, who has 26 goals in La Liga this season, and Walcott who score Arsenal’s first goal at the Emirates and whose searing pace stunned the Spanish defenders.

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