It was a dramatic finish between Arsenal and Barcelona, with Captain and Spanish International Cesc Fabregas waiting on more conclusive test results following his injury directly after his 85th minute game tying penalty.
The Arsenal captain had passed a late fitness test on the knock he took beneath his knee at Birmingham City on Saturday and drove himself through an evening of intense emotion against Barcelona, the club where he started his career.
If Fábregas’ fears are confirmed, he could see his dream of playing at the World Cup finals with Spain in jeopardy. He underwent a scan after the match but the result was inconclusive. He will now undergo a further scan late this afternoon.
“I am not good,” he said. “We have to wait for tomorrow but I hope I will be able to wear the Arsenal shirt again this season. I fear the worst, which is that I broke something. I took the penalty quite strong and after that I went to get the ball and I couldn’t walk any more.
“I don’t think it’s going to be good news but I hope that it will be. It is the fibula. For 85 minutes it was not a gamble to play tonight. I knew in my mind I was not 100% and I knew in my mind that there was something there. But until the penalty I was feeling quite good.
“It was a gamble worth taking. It was an amazing experience, an amazing game and I will remember it all my life. The injury was bad but I think I would have done it anyway, having been injured before.”
Fábregas knew he would miss the second leg of the tie through suspension after being booked for a foul on Sergio Busquets, a yellow card that his manager Arsène Wenger described as “cheap” and “undeserved”. But Fábregas fought on and, even after scoring the 85th-minute equaliser, he refused to come off as Arsenal had used their three substitutes. It was a decision, Wenger said, dictated by adrenaline and one that might have worsened the injury.
Fábregas was devastated to be booked for his challenge on Busquets, in which he appeared to take the ball but catch the Barcelona midfielder with his trailing leg. “It was very tough to be booked because I thought I won the ball really well. It is really not nice but that is football and I cannot play anyway because of the injury. The team can definitely do it without me.”
Wenger admitted Arsenal had been fortunate to withstand an onslaught that the Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, described as being “the best 45 minutes” under his charge. Wenger, though, drew inspiration from the stirring fightback, sparked by Theo Walcott’s introduction, and he retained the hope that his players could still turn the tie around in the second leg at Camp Nou next Tuesday.
“The whole team was mentally unbelievable tonight,” he said, “because we kept going and kept going, and against an opponent which was high-class. I am still convinced that we can make life difficult for them in the second tie and that we have a chance to qualify.
“Why do I say that? Because we have to study well how we were dominant and [when we] win the ball back. I believe that when we won the ball back, we always looked dangerous, especially when we exploited some of their weaknesses. We have to go for that.
“I must say that we played against a great team who was dominant in the early part of the game. That’s where we were lucky because they had a lot of chances. We gave them too much room to play. I still believe a part of their superiority was down to our inhibition at the beginning of the game. We gave them too much space.”
Barcelona will be without both of their first-choice central defenders because of suspension; Gerard Piqué collected a third booking while Carles Puyol’s red card for the foul on Fábregas for the penalty rules him out. “For me, based on what I have seen tonight, that is not enough to give us the edge,” said Wenger, with a smile.
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