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McNicholas: Arsenal have a winning formula

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Bayern Munich about an hour ago
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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 16, 2006

Rijkaard keeps Gunners guessing

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard will not decide if Lionel Messi will play in the Champions League final against Arsenal until the day of the game.

Messi has been one of Barcelona's most creative influences and has played a significant role in his team's run to a second straight Primera Liga title and a European final but he has been sidelined of late with a thigh injury.

The Argentinian international trained this evening with the rest of his team-mates and is praying that he will be selected.

But Rijkaard has the young striker and Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger guessing on the eve of the big showdown.

'I will wait until tomorrow to name the 18 players,' said Rijkaard.

'We still have one training session, including Messi and we will have to wait and see what happens. We are all happy that Leo is improving.'

With or without Messi, Rijkaard is upbeat about his team's chances.

'We have a lot of confidence in ourselves,' said the 43-year-old coach.

'Tomorrow's game is not only important for the club but for the players and for the Barca fans.

'We know we have to play a great game against a very good side in order to win tomorrow.'

Barca have lost three of their four European finals and their only victory in this competition dates back to 1992.

However, Rijkaard insists the past is all forgotten.

'The fact that Barca hasn't won that much in its history is not a heavy burden,' he said.

Rijkaard, who won the competition with both AC Milan and Ajax as a player, believes that fortune plays a big part in achieving success.

'Basically, you have to score one more goal than your rivals, as simple as that,' he said.

'All I want is that my players show how they can play, nothing more, nothing less.'

Barca may have beaten Chelsea earlier in this competition but Rijkaard believes Wednesday's game will be a different challenge altogether.

He said: 'A final is a unique occasion. You cannot compare Arsenal and Chelsea.

'It's true that they are both very strong teams.

'Chelsea has proved to be a super team in England while Arsenal are playing at a high level with lots of youngsters.'

Rijkaard admits he has been at awe with what Wenger has managed to achieve this season, taking the Gunners all the way to their first European final.

'I am an admirer of Wenger,' he said.

'I think he has done a great job.'

Rijkaard's biggest concern is whether his team will be able to break the Gunners' defensive wall.

Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in the last 10 Champions League encounters.

'It says a lot that they have only conceded two goals in the whole competition,' said Rijkaard.

'Results have gone their way and this has given their players a lot of confidence.

'But this is a final and it's going to be very interesting.'

More so, considering that Wenger's side will come up against the best attacking force in the competition, with Barca having struck 22 times in Europe this season.

'My players are very excited, motivated and very united,' said Rijkaard.

However, the Dutch manager is unhappy with the fact his team have been handed the favourites tag.

'To think that we are favourites to win would be a great error,' said Rijkaard.

'Everything starts with being humble and we know we have to go for them from the first minute.'

Rijkaard revealed he would not change his tactics in order to stop Arsenal captain Thierry Henry's attacking threat.

'Henry is a great player,' he said.

'But we cannot change everything for just one player.'