MADRID - Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona forward Thierry Henry will have different reasons to feel nostalgic when the current and former captains of the London club face off in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Fabregas, 22, came through Barca's youth programme before joining the Gunners as a 16-year-old in September 2003 and is in the prime of his career, while Henry, a decade older and in the twilight of his, scored a record 226 goals in his eight years with Arsenal before joining the Catalan side in 2007.
The two-legged tie is given even more piquancy by the persistent rumours in Spain and England linking Fabregas with a move to the European champions, where five of his Spain team-mates, including defender Gerard Pique, ply their trade.
"He is the one who fires the Arsenal engine," Pique said at a news conference on Friday.
"For sure there are other good players who compliment him but Cesc is the most important."
Fabregas, who has recovered from a hamstring injury and is in the squad to face West Ham on Saturday, has been in sparkling form this campaign, scoring 14 league goals, including two in a match-winning cameo against Aston Villa in December.
France striker Henry, by contrast, has netted only three times for Barca this term and after playing a key role in their treble-winning 2008/09 season has been sparingly used by coach Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola's Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger, who also coached Henry at Monaco, said on Friday he maintained close contact with his French compatriot.
"But I believe what is important is on the day that everyone sees a good football game and that we win it," Wenger told a news conference. "The best way is to focus on us and not too much on our opponents."
Guardiola and Wenger are disciples of an offensive, fast-flowing style of football that relies on dominating possession, quick passing and devastating counter-attacking.
For that reason, Fabregas is likely to be a much more decisive figure in the tie than Henry, although the Frenchman's form has picked up in recent matches and Pique said he was getting back to his best.
"It's very important for us that he is firing on all cylinders," he said.
Barca assistant trainer Tito Vilanova, who coached the young Fabregas, said on Friday it was inevitable that attention would be focused on the Spain midfielder but noted that "Arsenal would not be here if they did not have other quality players".
It was also unavoidable that his potential move back to Barca would be discussed in the media, particularly considering the imminent elections for club president, with each candidate obliged to promise high-profile signings to garner votes.
"Whatever happens, it's a lack of respect to talk about his future because he is currently an Arsenal player," Vilanova told Barca TV.