Cesc Fàbregas has already stopped history repeating itself in one sense, merely by winning his race to be fit for Arsenal FC's last-16 second-leg showdown with FC Barcelona. Unlike last term, when Arsenal's Catalan captain missed out on these clubs' quarter-final return with the cracked fibula he had suffered in the first leg, Fàbregas will step out at the Camp Nou on Tuesday after recovering from a hamstring problem.
The goal now is to stop a repeat of history in the larger sense – by reversing Arsenal's UEFA Champions League exit in Spain last April – on what the 23-year-old admits will be a "special" night. Fàbregas, if anybody needed reminding, began his career in Barcelona's La Masia academy and has been repeatedly linked in the media with a return one day to the club.
"Obviously, I am very happy to be back here; it's a special match. However, I have to be professional and give my best for my team," said Fàbregas, who sat out Arsenal's English League Cup final loss to Birmingham City FC on 27 February as well as Saturday's Premier League home draw with Sunderland AFC. "I was worried during the last fortnight thinking I couldn't make it but I am OK now. I haven't pushed myself – the team is very important to me so I wouldn't risk my health; that wouldn't be professional on my part."
Arsenal produced a stirring late fightback to win the first leg 2-1 on 16 February and Fàbregas believes they can now finish the job against Josep Guardiola's much-lauded Spanish champions. "We have the character and potential and we want to win trophies for the club. Everyone will want to show how good we are and it's a fantastic opportunity to win the game." And whatever his feelings for his alma mater, he insists his focus is purely on a victory for the Londoners. "
I want to win for Arsenal. There's nothing extra in my head because it's Barcelona," said Fàbregas.
But how to beat Barcelona? "Well, we know you can't give Lionel Messi space, he scored four goals last season," the Spain midfielder said. "We showed what we had to do in the first leg, but we can't forget we have to play our own game. We are Arsenal and we have to make them respect us."
Fàbregas went on to cite Messi's key intervention last term, when the Argentinian international cancelled out Nicklas Bendtner's opener within 120 seconds – the first of his four goals that night. "I think there were key moments last season, like when they scored so soon after us," he said. "If they hadn't they might have got nervous. Leo Messi made the difference. We have to be ready for everything. We're not used to [our opponents having the ball], but we have to be intelligent and mature enough to know what they can do and stick to our football."
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