Arsenal can probably hurt Barcelona but… By Twig
It used to be only Messi in the past, but even then Barcelona was a cause of sleepless nights for many Arsenal fans. At this moment though, Barcelona is an even more fearsome prospect boasting not only Messi – who has hardly waned since that 4-goal masterclass at the Nou Camp – but also Neymar and Suarez. Suarez in particular has been in fine form this season with 41 goals in all competitions and Wenger has identified him as the man whom Arsenal must stop when the two teams clash tonight.
Surprisingly, Arsenal hasn’t done too badly against Barcelona. Of course we suffered that humiliating 4-1 defeat six years ago, but we did also beat them 2-1 in probably the greatest moment at the Emirates about a year later. If Van Persie hadn’t got sent off in the return leg, we could perhaps have defied the odds and secured semi-final qualification at the expense of the overwhelming favourites. Despite Barcelona’s undoubted class, they have never managed to stop Arsenal from scoring and our head-to-head record since 2010 stands at a 6-10 loss which isn’t all that terrible you know.
There is no doubt that Arsenal can deliver against the top sides: We had defeated Bayern 2-0 earlier in the season, also held them to a 1-1 draw two years earlier, and have managed an impressive 3-0 victory against Milan. The problem however is not if we can beat the top sides in one odd fixture but whether we can keep disciplined and focused over two legs. Even though we did beat Bayern 2-0 we found them too difficult to handle in the return fixture succumbing to an embarrassing 5-1 loss. Although we did beat Milan 3-0, we did also have a 4 goal deficit which we had to surmount after the first leg. In both cases, although we did secure impressive results it simply wasn’t nearly enough to secure qualification.
For Arsenal to have any chance against Barcelona, we must be disciplined and show great solidarity while defending and while attacking. Any opportunities we have to attack must not be wasted. And of course, we need not stress how terribly important it is for us not to pick up silly bookings or play into the Barcelona players’ theatricals. We will be forced to mainly play on the counter-attack, as we’ll see very little of the ball, but actually this could also be to our advantage. In Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck we have very speedy forwards who could hurt Barcelona very badly on the break anytime we’re able to win the ball.
In this game, Wenger will probably not need the aerial prowess of Olivier Giroud – since we’ll be playing mostly far away from the Barca danger area – but he may find the trio of Alexis, Theo or Welbeck more useful to lead the attack. Like the boss did against Bayern to great effect, he may bring Giroud on in the second half after our speedy forwards have tired out the Barcelona defence. Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud provide such a huge contrast in playing styles that most defenders find it perplexing when made to face the two players in the same game! It served us well earlier in the season and it could serve us well today. If Arsenal beat Barcelona this evening it’ll be no surprise to me, the question however is if can we keep our discipline and focus at the notoriously boisterous atmosphere in the return leg at the Nou Camp.
Key Arsenal players: Coquelin and Welbeck
Welbeck Ozil Sanchez
Monreal Koscielny Mertesacker Bellerin
Score prediction: Arsenal to win 3-2