Now Arsenal no longer have even one Song, do they have a prayer? That was the question being raised by Arsenal fans last night after Alex Song, whom they serenade with the chant, "One Song, we only have one Song", did not travel to Barcelona for tonight's Champions League quarter-final second leg. The increasingly influential Cameroonian midfielder has been ruled out with a knee injury. He becomes Arsenal's fifth significant absentee after Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas.
"It was a bad surprise, I wanted Song available," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. "He had a scan on his knee and has an inflamed cartilage." Song had been pencilled in for one of two key roles: holding midfielder, or makeshift centre-half. In either position he would have found himself dealing with Lionel Messi. Denilson will take the midfield role, alongside Abou Diaby, but the identity of Thomas Vermaelen's defensive partner will depend on Sol Campbell's fitness.
The veteran defender, who began the season being given the run-around by Morecambe's forward line in his fleeting stint at Notts County in League Two, will face Messi et al, if he and Wenger believe his stiff hamstring is up to it. It is a scenario neither Campbell, nor anyone, else could possibly have envisaged when Arsenal began their European campaign in September.
"Frankly, if Sol declares himself completely fit he will play," Wenger said. "I believe he has another big performance in his body." The Arsenal manager, who intimated at the weekend that Fabregas had probably not been fit to play in the first leg, a match he finished with a stress fracture, despite telling Wenger he was, added: "I will make the decision but Sol is experienced enough to tell me if he's fit enough or not. I trust him completely to be responsible. He's not on an ego trip. He doesn't want to let the team down." Since Campbell was unable to complete training yesterday, managing only the warm-up, his availability must be in doubt. Mikaël Silvestre, who has been a bit-part player since his surprising move from Old Trafford last season, is the likely deputy.
Wenger, however, made the point: "We have to focus on the team performance. If we do not win the ball, and give them the ball at the Nou Camp, no matter who plays centre-back, we will have problems." That is the crux of the matter. Arsenal, said Wenger, were overwhelmed last Wednesday because they were inhibited, and sat off their exalted opponents. That gave Barcelona space to play. "We have to get a bit tighter in our marking," he said. "They played at a higher pace collectively." To compound Wenger's problems, Tomas Rosicky's fitness is also uncertain, Wenger rating him 50-50 to play because of the bruising he suffered when tackled by Wolves' Karl Henry at the weekend.
Henry was controversially dismissed but Wenger said: "When you look at his calf [there are four stud marks], you can see the tackle of Henry was not as innocent as it looked." Wenger added: "I've never had so many injuries before such a big game, but what gives me belief is the quality of players I still have on the pitch. I still have some good players to leave out."
Barcelona have selection problems of their own with two centre-halves, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, suspended and injury afflicting Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andres Iniesta, though the latter may figure at some stage tonight. However, Wenger noted the Catalans had some good players to bring in, among them Gabriel Milito and Rafael Marquez plus the fit-again Eric Abidal, who will be a more streetwise opponent for Theo Walcott than the ingénu Maxwell. That's assuming Walcott plays. He does tend to be better off the bench against tiring opposition but Wenger's options are limited, especially if he wants to take the initiative.
Wenger has been trying to impress upon his players that Barcelona are human. He admitted there was a psychological factor in "us being so used to having the ball, then suddenly not to have the ball. Certainly, the impression was deeper on the players than it should have been. We were victims of the reputation of Barcelona. They have done it, we have not done it, so you always make them bigger. In our heads they were very big.
"We have learnt from the first game that it is important we start with full power. Without any inhibition. How we manage to do that will certainly have a big influence on the game, and on the result."
Wenger concluded with a rare rallying cry. "Life is about grabbing opportunities, this team can make history by grabbing their opportunity. This team has character, and when you have character you always have hope. With character and quality you can fight anywhere in the world.
"People have written us off, but we're halfway through and will give a good game to Barcelona. It's Easter you know, a time of resurrection."
Nou Camp showdown Key clashes
Lionel Messi v Denilson
With Messi currently operating behind a main striker, it will be down to Denilson to prevent him picking up the ball and running at Arsenal's defence. As the Brazilian is more of a passing playmaker than a destructive holding player, this will be testing. "Denilson had a very good start to the season, then he had a little dip, now he's coming back very strong," said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger.
Gabriel Milito v Nicklas Bendtner
Milito could face his brother, Internazionale's Diego, in the semi-final, but first he must control Bendtner, who scored his fifth goal in as many matches on Saturday. The Dane will rarely have a better opportunity to justify his inflated opinion of himself. "He is important because he gives us something different," said Wenger.
Sergio Busquets v Samir Nasri
Compared to Xavi, Iniesta and Pique, Busquets is the unheralded local-boy-made-good but his influence is considerable as the midfield holding player. Nasri has to take Cesc Fabregas' role as Arsenal's creator. "Nasri has developed very well this season, step by step," said Wenger.
What are the odds?
9-2 Arsenal to eliminate Barcelona and reach the semi-finals.
50-1 The Gunners to win by a penalty shoot-out.
1-8 Barcelona to go through.
7-1 Barcelona to have 65 per cent or more possession in tonight's game.
7-2 Bendtner to score first.
To win the Champions League: Barcelona 11-8, Arsenal 14-1Reuse content