MADRID, April 5- Barcelona have a crucial week in their season with games against Arsenal and Real Madrid inside four testing days as they bid to defend their league and Champions League titles.
Pep Guardiola’s team brushed aside Athletic Bilbao 4-1 on Saturday to keep pace with Real Madrid, currently ahead on goal difference, before next Saturday’s ‘El Clasico’ at the Santiago Bernabeu that could decide the destiny of this season’s title.
However, Barcelona must first take on Arsenal at Camp Nou in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday after drawing 2-2 in London.
"Without doubt Tuesday’s game (against Arsenal) is the most important of the season," said Guardiola. "It is more important than the game at the Bernabeu.
"If we progress we can reach the end of the season with the chance to become league and European champions."
Against Arsenal, Barcelona will be without suspended centre-backs Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol while striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also out after sustaining a leg injury in the warm-up for the Bilbao game.
In defence Argentine Gabriel Milito and Mexican Rafa Marquez are both experienced centre-halves while Ukraine international Dimitro Chigrinskiy is also in the frame after 90 minutes against Bilbao on Saturday.
Arsenal old boy Thierry Henry was rested in that victory and could start in place of Ibrahimovic although 19-year-old Bojan Krkic scored twice to stake his claim for a first team spot.
"In this squad everyone can play and we showed that against Bilbao," said midfielder Sergi Busquets. "There are changes but there is always the same system.
"Tuesday (against Arsenal) is a key game and Saturday (against Real Madrid) too.
"The Bilbao win gives us confidence for Tuesday and if we win in the Champions League it will make us more ambitious for ‘El Clasico’."
Bojan, Jeffren Suarez and Pedro Rodriguez all shone against Bilbao to give Guardiola another selection headache as the conveyor belt of young talent continues at Camp Nou.
"The philosophy of bringing players through from the youth system is great," said Busquets.
"Last season we brought through a lot, including myself, and the club saves a lot of money."
French left back Eric Abidal played his first league game since February in the Athletic win and lasted the whole 90 minutes to impress Guardiola and give him another option in defence.
Brazilian Maxwell, a summer signing from Inter Milan, played at left back in the 2-2 draw at the Emirates and came in for some criticism after being given a torrid time by speedy substitute Theo Walcott.
"I have heard some unfair things said about him (Maxwell) after the Arsenal game but the thing is Theo Walcott does 100 metres in 10.37 seconds," said Guardiola.