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Two of European football's most renowned attacking forces will collide when Arsenal FC host FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals yet Gunners defender Thomas Vermaelen believes it could be the men at the back who hold the key to the first-leg encounter.
The clubs met in the 2005/06 final when Vermaelen, who is still in his first season in north London after joining from AFC Ajax last summer, was merely one of millions of television viewers tuned in. On this occasion, though, the Belgian international will vie for centre stage as Arsenal bid to shackle Barça's impressive front line. Arsène Wenger emphasised the potential importance of not conceding an away goal − a formidable challenge, but one Vermaelen is relishing.
"For a player it's one of the biggest games you can be involved in, against one of the best teams in the world," said the 24-year-old. "Hopefully we can show how good we are. In all honesty, I don't think we have to be nervous: we have to play our own game.
It's crucial you play as a team and defend well at all times. We know how important it can be to keep a clean sheet at home.
"Lionel Messi is one of the best players in the world and I know all about Zlatan Ibrahimović from training alongside him at Ajax. But we can't think too much about their individuals; we must focus on our own game. We have some very good attacking players, too."
With ten goals this season, Vermaelen fits that category, as does Cesc Fàbregas. The Arsenal captain is nursing a severely bruised knee, sustained in the weekend draw against Birmingham City FC, and faces a race against time to face his former club. William Gallas is fit, however, and Vermaelen insists whoever starts against the holders will be equipped to succeed.
"Cesc is a really important player for us; he shows it every game," he added. "But we have lots of players who can make an impact in big games. We have responded well to setbacks this season and we need to keep on showing that we have that mental strength."
However, he feels the form which has yielded five successive home wins will count for little against Josep Guardiola's side. "You have to be strongest over two legs. It doesn't matter if you play the first game at home or away," he said. "
It will be a hard game for us, but if you want to win the UEFA Champions League you have to beat the best teams."
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