Date: 23rd February 2016 at 4:04pm
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Premier League title contenders Arsenal welcome La Liga giants and reigning European champions FC Barcelona to the Emirates Stadium tonight during their UEFA Champions League last-16 first-leg clash.

The hosts will be looking to halt their knockout stage hoodoo having been eliminated at this stage of the competition in the last five successive seasons.

Meanwhile the visitors; who currently lead the Spanish top-flight by eight points ahead of Atletico Madrid, are bidding to become the first team to defend their European crown since AC Milan’s triumph back in 1990.

Arsene Wenger’s side edged through their Champions League group stage, finishing as runners-up in Group F after early shock defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos.

However, an impressive 2-0 victory over Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich handed them their all-important lifeline, which the Gunners grabbed with both hands by easily fending off both Zagreb and Olympiacos in their deciding fixtures to progress into the last-16.

But Wenger will be desperate to not let history repeat itself tonight after last year’s surprise shock exit to the hands of Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, as Arsenal were knocked out by the French club on away goals.

On the other hand; in terms of Premier League progress, the North London side are making big steps towards their first English top-flight title since 2004, after moving within two points of leaders Leicester City following their 2-1 victory over the Foxes earlier this month.

Then we turn our attention to Barcelona. The five-time European champions have lifted the Champions League trophy four times within the last decade – a marvellous run that started by beating tonight’s opponents 2-1 in Paris back in 2006.

The only thing the Catalan giants haven’t mastered, we guess, is the capability of winning back-to-back European titles, which no club has achieved since the European Cup was renamed back in 1992.

Manager Luis Enrique is currently spearheading his side through a club-record 32-game unbeaten streak that keeps on going, a feat that surpasses the landmark left by ex-boss Pep Guardiola (26 wins).

Tonight’s hosts Arsenal shouldn’t worry about one or two key men from the visiting Spaniards, but particularly Barca’s entire ruthless front three in the form of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

The formidable trio have already scored a combined 91 goals while adding a further 43 assists so far this season, whilst the Gunners’ squad have managed just 61 goals between them this campaign.

Team News:

Gunners boss Wenger is set to recall goalkeeper Petr Cech, plus midfielders Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, after the trio were rested during last weekend’s goalless FA Cup encounter at home to Hull City.

Alexis Sanchez should feature against his former side, who he left for Arsenal back in 2014 after scoring 47 goals in 141 appearances for the Catalan outfit.

However, Frenchman Wenger is without midfielders Mikel Arteta (calf), Santi Cazorla (knee), Jack Wilshere (leg), Tomas Rosicky (thigh), plus defender Gabriel Paulista (hamstring), who all remain in the treatment room.

Meanwhile, Barca manager Enrique will name former Manchester United centre-half Gerard Pique in his starting XI after the Spain international was rested for their La Liga victory over Las Palmas. Midfielder Sergio Busquets also returns following suspension.

Although the La Liga giants will be without the suspended Arda Turan and the injured Rafinha (knee), former Gunner Thomas Vermaelen could be named in the matchday squad.

Group Position: Arsenal – 2nd (Group F), 9 pts; Barcelona – 1st (Group E), 14 pts
Previous Meeting: Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (March 8, 2011)
Key Men: Arsenal – Mesut Ozil; Barcelona – Lionel Messi
Form: Arsenal – LWDWWD; Barcelona – WWDWWW
Shoot Says: Arsenal 1-2 Barcelona

 
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