Barcelona Preview: Dream Time
A routine blog preview was blown apart yesterday afternoon. Most of it still holds true but has been amended since it was completed at 11am yesterday morning.
Arsenal are on the cusp of greatness. Criminally underrated in their own media – once more a barrage of ‘chokers’ came on Sunday, notably from Andy Dunn in the vile News of the World – appreciation of the squad comes from abroad. If victory is achieved this evening or even progress made, in the eyes of the British media, Arsenal will not have won the tie, Barcelona will have thrown it away. Or have been robbed by an incorrect decision.
Against this backdrop, the absence of key players is feeding a feeling of doom, where bowels to water. For Alex Song, history repeats itself. Absent last season, once more he will not make an appearance in the Camp Nou. The biggest question is who replaces him in the centre of the triumverate; Abou Diaby, Denilson or an outside chance, Emmanuel Eboué?
The Ivorian is very much an outside choice; it would not be the first time he has played in the defensive midfield role but it is not suited to his maverick style of defending.
The choice is simple; Denilson will offer more in terms of ball retention whilst Diaby is capable of more thrusting runs, piercing the heart of the Barca defence. The fixture does not require the blood and thunder which is seen so frequently in domestic football; it will be an altogether more cerebral affair, one where the quickness of the mind will be as telling as the fleetness of foot.
Where will Arsène put his faith? My feeling is that Denilson will get the nod, perhaps he is viewed as more disciplined in the pursuit of the ball for that is going to be a major factor in any Arsenal success this evening.
Elsewhere, Arsène’s choices are very much made for him bar who leads the line. Nasri has been outstanding when playing a wider role this season, able to drift off of both flanks and Cesc’s return will enable the resumption of those duties. On the opposite side, the spaces of the Camp Nou will be filled with the scampering feet of Andrey Arshavin, whose recovery of form is coming at a welcome time.
As I mentioned yesterday, Nicklas Bendtner will lead the line. Unless of course, Arsène is pulling a stroke in which case, welcome back Robin and Alex. As unlikely as it seems…it is wishful thinking, the Dutchman though has returned to training which is good news, perhaps The Hawthorns is being pencilled in for his return?
And Arsène has the barefaced cheek to say that he doesn’t know how to play mind games. Who is he kidding. That van Persie is back is great news. That he is back so soon is somewhat worrying in that it has echoes of Thierry Henry returning to the side for the second leg against PSV in 2007 and frankly being a passenger in that performance.
If van Persie is genuinely fit – and properly fit – then put him in the starting line-up; if not, leave him on the bench. It is the latter which ought to hold sway, if commonsense plays anything in the decision. It won’t though; too much is at stake. Arsenal have to score this evening. Or keep a clean sheet; one or the other. A win would be fantastic and not impossible, despite media protestations to the contrary, Barcelona are not invincible no matter how good a side they are.
van Persie might be included from the start with Arsène taking the view that an hour of the Dutchman might quell some of the Catalans attacking instincts. Defensively they are weakened by the absence of Puyol and Pique but in Milito and Abidal they do not have raw recruits replacing them; these are two experienced internationals who know their trade.
It just seems more likely that van Persie will be brought on with half an hour to go or perhaps sooner if, God forbid, the situation requires. In that time, a world class striker is more than capable of wreaking havoc. And van Persie is World Class.
That said, the line-up I expect to start tonight is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Fàbregas, Denilson, Wilshere; Nasri, Bendtner (van Persie), Arshavin
History is apparently with Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal never having lost a European tie in which he has played. Whether that is true, I know not but it is the sort of fact which brings comfort.
It is better than knowing that a clean sheet has eluded Arsenal in an away Champions League match since 2009, a two-goal victory at Celtic Park. If you exclude qualifying rounds, then it was victory in the San Siro when AC Milan succumbed.
Only twice previously have Arsenal won a first leg, second round 2-1. On both occasions – 1979-80 and 1994-95 – Arsenal reached the final. Don’t worry about the losing both of those finals, we’ll find something else to overcome that.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
Posted on March 8, 2011, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, FC Barcelona, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 781 Comments.