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It wasn’t exactly a confidence booster.
In anticipation of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg versus FC Barcelona, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger valiantly discarded a gaggle of his most eminent players against second-tier side Hull City in Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round match at KC Stadium, but the approach yielded nothing more than a scoreless draw, an unsavoury result against the lesser Hull.
Per FA Cup rules, with no winner having been produced, the two teams must replay the match at a later date, thus adding an extra game to an already cumbersome load for the Gunners, as they look to go deep into the Champions League and at the same time make up ground in the Premier League, where they are currently in third place behind a pair of surprises — this season's Cinderella team and leaders Leicester City, and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal roll out the welcome mat for FC Barcelona on Tuesday night. Kick-off at the Emirates Stadium is set for 8.45pm.
Meanwhile, Sevilla, who not just FC Barcelona’s first confirmed finals opponent of the season but also their next league opponents, drew 2–2 at Rayo Vallecano in Sunday’s early game in La Liga.
The Andalusians, who will face Barça in the Copa del Rey Final on 21 May — the site has yet to be determined — took an early two-goal lead on strikes from Steven N'Zonzi in the 10th minute and Vicente Iborra in the 20th before allowing Rayo to draw back level with goals on 43 and 62 minutes. Sevilla, the last team to beat Barça in any competition — which came way back on 3 October — remain in fifth place in the league table and will be at Camp Nou on Sunday night for an 8.30pm kick-off.
Real Madrid’s days as an FC Barcelona rival this season may be numbered, at least in La Liga. The Madrileños drew 1–1 at Málaga on Sunday afternoon to fall two more points of the pace and are still in third place, but are now nine points back of FCB with 13 games remaining. No La Liga team has ever made up that much ground with that many games left and come back to win the league.
Rouding out a monotonous weekend of draws for FC Barcelona's direct rivals, Atlético de Madrid were held to a 0–0 home stalemate by visiting Villarreal in the last game of Round 25 in La Liga.
Los Colchoneros thus manage to hang on to second place but, like their cross-town rivals Real Madrid, also drop a further two points back in the race for the league crown.
For Barça, Sunday's results cap an extraordinary five-day span which saw them increase their league lead by five points — from three to eight — after winning at Sporting on Wednesday night in what had been a game in hand since Week 16 in December, winning again at Las Palmas on Saturday, and then seeing the two Madrid-based teams both stumble.
All times are in Central European Time
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