BARCELONA, March 8 – Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said on Monday he believes that it will be a tight game against Arsenal on Tuesday in their Champions League Last 16 second leg encounter but still wants to face their strongest side.
The 40-year-old, who is suffering from a painful back which saw him return to hospital on Saturday, is hoping his side can overcome a 2-1 deficit from the first leg but admitted that he would prefer it came against Arsenal’s strongest side.
Both clubs have injury concerns with Theo Walcott and Alex Song definitely out for Arsenal but Cesc Fabregas should be ready and also Robin van Persie may play after initially being ruled out.
Barca meanwhile have lost first choice centre-half pairing Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, to injury and suspension respectively.
"I would like all the best players to be out there and for everyone to see an exciting match," said Guardiola, whose side thrashed Arsenal 4-1 in the second leg of their quarter-final clash last season after drawing 2-2 in London.
"If he (van Persie) plays then that is great as it is good for football but if not then they have plenty of other good replacements in attack.
"We are going to be without Gerard (Pique) and Carles (Puyol) but if we do not win it will not be because they are not there.
"It’s going to be a tough game and there won’t be much room on the pitch. Arsenal are strong on the counter-attack, breaking with players like Cesc so we need to be wary of that but it should be a magnificent challenge.
"In the knock-out stages anything can happen and if you lose your head for a minute then you could go out.
"This is our hardest game so far and if win then we can go far so we have to focus on ourselves."
Puyol failed a fitness test on Sunday and while Gabi Milito was initially favourite to step in alongside Eric Abidal it now looks as though Sergio Busquets will drop back from central midfield as the Argentine has been struggling for form.
Maxwell takes the place of Abidal at left-back.
"I’ve played in the position before and I am ready to do a job but there are also other options available to the coach and a decision won’t be made right before the match," said Busquets.
"Puyol and Pique are the two big absences but it is the same as last year and everything went well.
"Each match is different and we will have to earn it if we are to get a result like last year.
"We will play our game and it is important not to be nervous as we have 90 minutes and 1-0 is still a good result. We are playing well at the moment and this is the biggest match of the season.
"Arsenal are perhaps not one of the best sides away from home but they are still a top club."