Barcelona v Arsenal: A template for damage limitation By Twig
Arsenal has the “5 in 100” task of upstaging Barcelona right on their own turf later this evening. From a strictly sporting perspective, it is by no means an impossible job of course,
after all, this is the same game that had given us that incredible Champions league comeback against AC Milan some years ago. However, and unfortunately, this is not an Arsenal side that looks likely to overtake Leicester and Spurs in the title race, let alone pull off a miracle away to Barcelona. Indeed, ever since the 2-0 loss in the first leg of tonight’s clash the Gunners have managed to win a single game out of the 5 games they’ve played, losing significant ground in the title chase. By contrast, Barcelona has been on a free-scoring run, plunging 17 goals in 4 matches (or 4 goals per game) and sweeping away all the teams they’ve been set against.
However, even if Arsenal face an impossible task today, we must make sure we don’t suffer a humiliating defeat. Our title chances may be bleak, but you wouldn’t want to be facing an in-form Everton side on the back of a 7-0 trashing at the Nou Camp, would you? I really believe in the potential of this Arsenal side, and I believe clever tactics and game management can allow us to post a respectable showing against our fearsome opponents. These I believe are the steps Wenger and our players must take if tonight isn’t be a night to forget for all Arsenal fans.
1. Keep it 11 versus 11
In many crucial games, we’ve let ourselves down by picking up needless red cards, making our chances of getting a result even more difficult. Against Spurs, we were on the front foot after the Ramsey goal, however, a needless challenge from Coquelin had us play the rest of the game with 10 men. That really was a game that we should and could have won. The same script played out earlier in the season when we had Gabriel sent off against Chelsea even though we were the favourites heading into the tie. We cannot afford the same mistakes in tonight’s game against Barca.
2. Play Welbeck, drop Giroud
Before the first leg, I suggested Wenger played Welbeck as our main striker. Disappointingly, Wenger did the opposite and picked the relatively immobile Giroud to lead our attack. I still don’t know why he did that when playing Walcott, Welbeck or even Sanchez looked to be the obviously more effective choice. Perhaps, with only Bayern as an exception, most teams go to Barcelona expecting to see very little of the ball. It will be the same for Arsenal tonight. That being the case, we need a striker who can run in behind the Barcelona defenders any time we’re able to win the ball. We need a striker who can run with the ball at his feet and hold it up for the other players where necessary. Welbeck will offer plenty of that, Giroud will not, but may prove more effective coming on as a substitute.
3. Play with a high tempo from the start
The key to that impressive 3-0 victory against Manchester United (when the going was still good for Arsenal), was starting the game at a very high tempo. Arsenal must not give the Barcelona players any time on the ball (just like they won’t offer our players any time on the ball as well). Players like Busquets, Neymar and Iniesta must receive plenty attention from the likes of Elneny, Welbeck and Coquelin. The best scenario we could expect would be to score a goal in the first 10 minutes of the game. This is very possible. That outcome will scare the Barcelona players terribly creating gaps for the likes of Sanchez, Ozil and Welbeck to exploit.
4. Switch Sanchez and Campbell
Sanchez looks to have been found out recently on the left wing. His game has unfortunately stagnated to cutting in from the left, and trying to shoot with his right foot. It seems defenders have found him out and that trick doesn’t work any more. Whenever we play Sanchez on the left and Campbell on the right, it essentially means we don’t get crosses from the wings as both players play in an inverted fashion when used that way. Campbell also finds it difficult controlling Sanchez’s cross-field crosses as he has a very weak right foot. Against Watford, it seems Wenger has began to juggle things a bit and we saw Sanchez and Campbell interchange positions on several occasions. The result was of course very disappointing but I thought Sanchez looked far more dangerous and lively on the right wing than he did on the left. It was also from the right wing that he did eventually end his goal drought against Spurs.
5) Maintain defensive discipline
Other than that mix-up between Mertesacker and Flamini, we got the defensive part of the game spot on when we first met 3 weeks ago. We must be similarly staunch in defence this time around if we aren’t to suffer the same fate as Getafe and Eibar or worse. That means Mertesacker shouldn’t stray too high up the pitch, as the fleet-footed Barcelona forwards will try to exploit his lack of pace. Gabriel – if he plays – must be cautious not to dive in too enthusiastically into the challenge. Elneny and Coquelin must be prepared to work tirelessly all evening covering every blade of grass trying to win the ball and set up a counter attack.
Of course, all these steps won’t guarantee we get a result as Barcelona could be quite unpredictable. They could look to be reeling on the ropes for long spells before a quick-fire counter-attack ruins all your good work. In the first leg, it seemed we were gradually getting an upper-hand in the game before a quick counter-attack started by Iniesta and finished off by Messi ruined all our good work. Our main objective tonight would be to limit the damage for as long as possible and see if any opportunities open up on the other side of the pitch. For starters, Pique will not be available tonight, so we could probably get a goal or two tonight, or what do you think?