Arsene Wenger is considering fielding a weakened team for the second leg of Arsenal’s Champions League tie against Barcelona, according to The Times.
Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by Barca in the first leg of their last-16 tie at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night, with Wenger admitting his side are “95 per cent” certain to once again exit the competition at this stage.
The Gunners’ misery was compounded by scans revealing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sustained knee ligament damage against the Catalans and could now miss much of the run-in, but that is only expected to strengthen Wenger’s belief that he now needs to protect his key players for the remaining 12 games of the Premier League season.
The Frenchman is yet to consider which players he will rest at the Nou Camp and will make a decision closer to the time based on fatigue levels, it is said, but Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny are named as the three prime candidates to be left at home having played the most games of Arsenal’s outfield players this season.
Arsenal face a Saturday lunchtime trip to Everton after the Barcelona game on Wednesday March 16, while an FA Cup replay against Hull City, likely to be Monday, March 7, two days after a crucial north London derby, has added to the fixture congestion.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, is now a doubt for England’s friendlies against Germany and Netherlands next month, reducing his opportunity to make a compelling case to be included in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the European Championship.