Guardiola plays down Walcott threat

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has played down the importance of Theo Walcott in tonight's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Arsenal.

The England winger came off the bench to score Arsenal's first goal in their unlikely first-leg comeback, when they came back from two goals behind to draw 2-2 at the Emirates stadium.

Walcott's pace seem to worry the Catalans' defence, but Guardiola insisted the real reason Barca failed to win was down to Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who made a succession of fine saves to deny the Catalans, particularly in the first half.

"Let's be clear, Walcott was not the determining factor, the determining factor was Almunia, who saved 12,000 balls," the 39-year-old said.

Barca left-back Maxwell was criticised in the Spanish press for failing to cope with the pace of Walcott as Arsenal got back into the game.

"He is fast," the former Ajax defender said after the game.

"I looked to the linesman to see if the flag was up but by the time I looked up and looked back, Walcott was gone."

Guardiola defended the Brazilian on Friday, but the Barca coach is set to deploy fit-again Eric Abidal on the left tomorrow night after the France defender made an impressive return from injury against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend.

Abidal is much quicker than Maxwell and the former Lyon full-back is clearly unimpressed by the Englishman's ability to run 100 metres in just over 10 seconds, a feat highlighted by the local media in Monday's press conference, in which Walcott appeared alongside his coach, Arsene Wenger.

"It may be really good for him to run 100 metres in a little over 10 seconds, but the aim (in football) is to get to the goal," Abidal said on Saturday.

"We'll wait there for him and we'll see what he can do with the ball - let's see if he can get past four defenders."

With Abidal almost certain to replace Maxwell, three of the four defenders will be different to the ones that started in north London on Wednesday.

Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, currently the club's two first-choice centre-backs, both miss out through suspension, with the latter also injured.

With summer signing Dmitro Chygrynskiy ineligible, Gabi Milito and Rafa Marquez look set to start tomorrow.

Milito is still feeling his way back following more than a year and a half on the sidelines, while Marquez has been plagued by injury and poor form this season.

Walcott may quietly be relishing the chance to run at those two, but Guardiola says keeping the ball, something Barcelona do very well, is the key to denying the England winger and his Arsenal team-mates at the Nou Camp.

"Walcott is so speedy, he has strong legs, he played very well against us (on Wednesday) and also in the last league game," he said.

"But we will try to keep the ball, that's the best way to stop Arsenal and to stop Walcott as well."

And the Barca coach says his side will go out and play their usual attacking game.

"We are going to try to be ourselves, to keep the ball, to get the ball and play with great intensity," he said.

"And I think Mr Wenger will want to do the same."

Barcelona could only draw in London, despite enjoying almost 70 per cent of the possession on the night.

But Guardiola says the side that has the ball most at the Nou Camp will be the one that progresses to the semi-finals to face either Inter Milan or CSKA Moscow.

"The team that has the ball most will win the game," he said.

"Let's hope that's us, we have to keep going - tomorrow is our biggest game of the season."

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower