Messi poised to upstage Henry on Arsenal return

Wenger, centre, says his team will take no special measures against in-form Barca player Lionel Messi. (GETTY IMAGES)

Arsenal will fight fire with fire today when Barcelona arrive at the Emirates Stadium for the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final that has had football fans salivating since the draw was made.

Manager Arsene Wenger is sweating on the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas for the visit of the European champions, the former Barcelona youth team player troubled with a bruised knee, but whichever side he sends out will be one selected to maximise their own weapons rather than muzzle Barca.

World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is in outrageous form, scoring 11 goals in his last seven matches for Barca and the Argentine wizard will be relishing the prospect of the wide-open spaces of the lush Emirates pitch which has witnessed some breathtaking Arsenal displays this season. With Thierry Henry, scorer of a club record 226 goals for Arsenal, back "home" for the first time since leaving for Barcelona in 2007, and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in form, the Gunners face a huge task but one their vibrant form in Europe suggests is not beyond them.

Losing Fabregas, who has scored 18 goals this season in all competitions, would be a major blow, but he was missing in the last round when they beat Porto 5-0 thanks to a Nicklas Bendtner hat-trick and superb performances by Samir Nasri and Andrei Arshavin.

While mindful of the fact that Messi, who missed the 2006 Champions League final triumph against Arsenal in Paris because of injury, could single-handedly destroy his side's ambitions, Wenger said no special measures will be taken for a player who has been almost unstoppable of late.

"Once you start to man-mark one, it can work but in exceptional teams you have two or three you have to man-mark and then you have to go to a system where you could create your own problems just by following somebody everywhere," Wenger told Arsenal's website.

Henry's return promises to be an emotional one after Arsenal fans recently voted him the most important player in the English club's history. "I am very emotional but also keeping calm. It will be a strange game for me," the France striker told Barca TV. "Before the draw I said I did not want to meet Arsenal. That was my wish. But now it is what we have been given and we will have to be at our best."

Henry may have been the unquestioned leader at Arsenal but he has only played a marginal role at Barca this season, left firmly in the shade by Messi's exploits.

"What Leo does is difficult to find in any other player," said Henry.

Messi's headline-grabbing displays have tended to cover for some laboured displays by Guardiola's team.

 

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