stage set for Young guns

MADRID - Youngsters Theo Walcott and Bojan Krkic could take centre stage when Arsenal visit Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Nou Camp tonight.

MADRID - Youngsters Theo Walcott and Bojan Krkic could take centre stage when Arsenal visit Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Nou Camp tonight.

Injuries and suspensions have forced Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola into changes and their ability to adapt will be tested to the full, with the European champions holding the edge having drawn 2-2 in last Wednesday's first leg.

Arsenal are without captain Cesc Fabregas, who cracked a bone in his leg last week, while Barca have lost Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of both their goals in London, to a calf injury.

Guardiola turned to perennial substitute Krkic at home to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday and the 19-year-old scored twice in a 4-1 win. With Thierry Henry still struggling to convince Guardiola of his commitment to the cause, not helped by a largely anonymous second-half appearance at the Emirates Stadium, Krkic could start up front. Barca are without central defensive pairing Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, who are both suspended. In their absence, Gabriel Milito and midfielder Yaya Toure could be drafted in at the back.

Eric Abidal played his first game in more than six weeks after injury on Saturday and should return at left-back.

Barca visit La Liga title rivals Real Madrid on Saturday for a top-of-the-table clash, but Guardiola was clear where his priorities lay.

Wenger will be tempted to unleash Walcott, 21, from the start in the Nou Camp as the jet-heeled winger made a huge impact after coming on in the second half last week.

The Frenchman's attacking options are restricted, with Andrei Arshavin and Fabregas both missing and Robin van Persie not yet ready to return, but he must decide whether Walcott is best used from the start or as an impact substitute.

Needing to win or achieve a high-scoring draw to go through, Arsenal will hope to capitalise on Barcelona's defensive absentees, though Barca's firepower could signal a more cautious approach from Wenger.

Arsenal suffered no fresh injuries in the last-gasp 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, which kept alive their league title hopes. - Reuters

X