Barcelona v Arsenal: A Night Of Chilling Simplicity
Cast your minds back to any trip that Arsenal has made to a major European football venue and the tag of ‘underdogs’ has usually been applied. The San Siro; the Bernabeu; the Stadio Olimpico. Fixtures over the years from which Arsenal has emerged victorious. This time Barcelona brims with confidence that two away goals and a dominant first half performance will be sufficient. In their position, you would want to forget the final thirty minutes when the tight grip they had loosened significantly. They should not though for in that time is the key to the tie.
Dani Alves, rather appropriately for this time of year, decreed that Arsenal needs ‘a big miracle‘ to progress. Miracles are not required. A tight defensive performance is. A clean sheet would be most advantageous. A win is not a necessity but to rest hopes on a high scoring draw is ambitious and defeatist in attitude. Despite media claims to the contrary, Arsenal’s progress is definitely in their hands.
To quote Brian Moore, it is ‘a night of chilling simplicity‘; one more goal than Barcelona sees Arsenal through to the semi-final. Not an easy task nor is it impossible. The Catalans are an outstanding team, any one who denies that deceives themselves. Unbeatable? No. Sevilla has won in the Camp Nou as have Rubin Kazan this season.
Whilst he would have preferred a lead, the draw in the first leg also helps Wenger’s preparation. The focus has to be completely upon victory tonight; there are no distractions of a draw or a slender margin of defeat being good enough to proceed. Victory is, realistically, the only way in which Arsenal can ensure their progress. He is not helped by the absence of four crucial players but from adversity, the squad has achieved much this season. Habitually written off in the Premier League, annoying the great and the good by still being in the race for the title, albeit in the hands of the results of two other teams, as well as their own.
Missing four seasoned and talented members of the squad weakens any team, no matter how good the ‘understudies’ are. However, there is enough depth to the squad in their positions that talent can come in whilst still leaving Wenger options as to whether it is all-out attack or a more considered approach with a fresh injection of ideas in the final half an hour.
Defensively, Gallas’ absence means the decision for Wenger is two-fold. Is Sol Campbell fit enough to play this evening given the proximity of the final whistle against Wolves or is Silvestre fitter and therefore, the starter? With over a week to the next Premier League fixture, Campbell’s recovery from the weekend is all that matters in terms of his fitness, no immediate concern for upcoming matches as there is a week to Tottenham. Both players will give their all in pursuit of winning, effort cannot be criticised. Both are capable of positional clangers and outstanding tackles in equal measure.
For me, Silvestre is a better left back than central defender but needs must. If Campbell is not fully fit, he should not play. Compensating for his diminshing pace with good positional play is one thing; to have to compensate for restricted movement due to injury adds unnecessary pressure to all of the back four.
With Alex Song and Fabregas missing, the midfield and front line will need reshuffling. Who fills those roles depends on the fitness of Tomas Rosicky. Having lost Gallas and his captain through recurrence or worsening of existing injuries, will Arsene risk the Czech from the kick-off if his fitness is less than 90%? Yesterday it was 50:50 according to the manager and whilst his percentages are notoriously wide of the mark at times, he has the Premier League to consider as well as tonight. If Rosicky does start, then Nasri, Diaby and Denilson would probably form the triumverate with Rosicky, Bendtner and Eboue further forward.
Walcott came on to great effect in the first leg but at the weekend, Wenger ventured that it may be worth keeping Theo as an impact substitute noting his relative ineffectiveness at St Andrews the day before and that Abidal, likely to play instead of Maxwell, is more defensively minded and could force Walcott to the periphary of the game, whilst a late appearance tonight may prove as emphatic as last week, taking advantage of a lack of match fitness. Should Rosicky not make it, Walcott may start with Eboue on the left although Eduardo is the more likely with Eboue on the right.
The Barcelona defence is their weak spot this evening and must be taken advantage of. Neither of the central defenders is the first choice and as much as they practice together, their understanding will not be the same as that of Puyol and Piquet. Much is being made of Arsenal’s weakness in the absence of Gallas but Barcelona has their own problems, frequently overlooked as the media eulogises Messi. The absence of Ibrahimovic weakens their forwards. Like Arsenal they have others to replace him. The gap between he and them may be wider but to get into any first team at this level, you have to be half-decent.
The starting line-up I would expect Arsene to go with is:
Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Clichy; Diaby, Denilson, Nasri; Rosicky (Eduardo), Bendtner, Eboue
It is a night for courage from the players, physical and mental. The mistakes of the first leg were easy to see: too respectful, lack of pressure, collective slack marking. All of them were rectified in the final thirty minutes; it is that level of performance which needs to be maintained from the start this evening. If it is not, there may be trouble ahead. Mentally, the players should not be afraid nor should supporters. The team is habitually denigrated in the media, choking as they refuse to acknowledge the title challenge, waiting for the slip. Do not believe the Barcelona hype. The best in Europe? They were last season but that was then, this is now. Time for the young princes to assume the throne.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
Posted on April 6, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, FC Barcelona, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 880 Comments.