Preview : Barcelona – Arsenal – UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg

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I don’t think anyone will argue this isn’t Barça’s most important game of the season, at the very least, most exciting and nerve-wracking.  Yes, the home match against Real Madrid back in November and the away match in Valencia just last week were crucial, in terms of the league, but the Champions League brings with it a whole different kind of pressure and prestige.  One reason is that the sports press from across Europe like to watch these games and judge a team entirely by the few performances in the Champions League.  As many here commented on during the 1st-leg, the British media in particular were ready to label us “not as good” as we have been made out to be.  The other reason tomorrow’s game is so important is, well, to be frank, we are better than Arsenal, and to lose to them will be a disappointment.  This special group of players at Barça is historic, unprecedented and we need to capitalize on it by winning as many Champions Leagues as possible.  Otherwise, in years to come, many will remember this great team, but hanging 2 or 3 more European trophies in the cabinet is the best way to validate us for eternity.  Every year we do not win it, feels like a big opportunity lost.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, we would play this competition and just hope to win it.  When we got knocked out, it was disappointing but not heartbreaking as we knew going in for it we were not favourites and our history in the competition gave us little expectation.  But since the win in 2006 and the culture of winning and excellence that has been installed by Laporta, Rijkaard, and now Guardiola, the mindset has obviously changed, and rightly so.  Going out so early in the knock out stage will be a real shame.

Let’s start with our opponents.  Since the euphoria following the 2-1 victory 3 weeks ago, there have been quite a few negative news stories.  The first was their extremely disappointing 2-1 defeat to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final.  Arsenal bossed the 2nd half of that game and created a vast amount of chances that were either squandered or saved by Ben Foster.  Then, come the 89th minute, a communication blunder between Koscienly and Szczesny caused a colossal error which resulted in the ball falling to the foot of Obafemi Martins with a wide open net.  The main theme coming out of that result was along the lines of, “of course that’s how Arsenal would cock it up” or “typical”.  Goalkeeping blunders have been a sour point at the Emirates the last few seasons, starting with Almunia, then Fabianksi (affectionately called ‘Flapianski’ by the press), and now the keeper that everyone thought looked the business, Szczesny.

There has also been a host of injury problems which will result in Song, Van Persie, and Walcott not featuring tomorrow night.  Now, each one of these injuries benefit us in a very real way.  Song is really the only hard man (but still technically very solid) in the midfield that will put in the big tackles and use his physical presence to disrupt us, Van Persie is their best striker, and with no Walcott their threat of counter attack is very much diminished.  Fabregas picked up another hamstring injury during a 1-0 home win to Stoke on February 23rd and has been missing since.  He was passed fit today, but still, he won’t be at 100% physically.  Wilshere is fit also, after slight discomfort with an ankle issue.

On our side, the glaring news report is that our brave captain Puyol seems certain to miss the match.  Yesterday afternoon a report was published saying the Barcelona medical staff have “confirmed” Puyol will not be cleared for tomorrow.  Now, personally, I won’t fall off my chair in surprise if I see him lead the team out tomorrow night because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  Other than that, we were boosted with the return of Victor Valdes Saturday night.  Despite sitting idle and watching the game for probably 85 of the 90 minutes, the few times, one in particular, he needed to be fully focused and make an important save, he did just that.  Having him tomorrow is extremely important.  It is made even more important by the fact that because Pique is again suspended for this tie; essentially our favored center back pairing will not play.  Abidal, who could be candidate for player of the season, has been brilliant in the center, so that brings some comfort.  But who will join him?  The reports are, and I personally would also guess, that Pep is going to go with Busquets as a false center back and have Mascherano in the midfield for protection.  However, he could go with Milito, who had quite a solid showing Saturday.  Other than that, we are at full strength.  Xavi is recovered and there are no other notable injuries.  Our 11 should be Valdes, Alves, Busquets, Abidal, Maxwell, Xavi, Mascherano, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi and Villa.

Now I’m not always a huge fan of statistics and history, because all that matters is what happens on the day, but they are interesting nonetheless. The recent defeat was our first against Arsenal in 6 total encounters, in which we have won 3 and drawn 2, including the 2-1 victory in the 2006 Champions League Final.  In two-legged ties where we have gone down 2-1 in the first leg, we have progressed twice and failed twice, so not much to that.  When Arsenal have won the first leg at home, they have progressed 14 of 15 times, the only defeat coming in Spain against Valencia in 2000/1.

The referee will be Swiss man Massimo Busacca.  Busacca is one of the most prominent officials in the world these days, but I can’t say he’s my favourite (though these days not many are).  He has some very good matches but is known for a few controversial calls here and there.  Anyway, we shouldn’t let a referee decide this game and hopefully nothing worth talking about will happen.

We’re only down 2-1 people.  Honestly, whether we had won, drawn, or lost in the first leg, our style of play and objective come tomorrow would have been no different.  The objective is the same: win, and win with as many goals as we can.  Mathematically we only need 1-0.  The only thing we must try and avoid is conceding more than 1, if they get two away goals, for example at 2-2, I’ll start to squirm a little.  This is the most eagerly anticipated and talked about footballing match of the year.  Two teams dedicated to playing football the beautiful way again go head to head, but this time, the student holds a small advantage over the teacher.  It’s going to be a cracker.

Força Barça.

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15 Responses to Preview : Barcelona – Arsenal – UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg

  1. barcacentralnic says:

    It seems Van Persie has been included in Wenger’s 19-man squad for the game but whether he will feature or not remains to be seen. Van Persie is obviously important for Arsenal but the big problem for Wenger is who to play instead of Song, and hopefully we can take advantage of this. I’m not too worried about our central defenders as I’m sure Busquets and Abidal can compliment each other, probably better than a Milito-Abidal pairing as they are both left sided players. We’ll have to watch the space behind Alves and Maxwell but we are sure to create more chances than them. We’ll just have to hope our forwards have a good day and we should make it through.

  2. emmanuel says:

    Oh!yes,i take it with forca barca,it is really a big cracker.if the catalan can utilize what they ‘ve got,they can defeat arsenal.i believe that with conscious players like,messi,villa,xavi,andre,pedro & alves.we should triumph dat match. Emma de barcelona fan.

  3. emmanuel says:

    Oh!yes,i take it with forca barca,it is really a big cracker.if the catalan can utilize what they ‘ve got,they can defeat arsenal.i believe that with conscious players like,messi,villa,xavi,andre,pedro & alves.we should triumph dat match. Emma de barcelona fan.abia state,nigeria.

  4. FCB-Parbo says:

    6 april 2010. I will never forget that day coz it was my mom’s birthday. All my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews were all cheering, screaming and laughing together. Yeah, it was a great day back then and oh so sweet memories.

    But that is in the past. Now I’m so excited and a little nervous and I hope that they will teach Arsenal a lesson and that Ars. will have a bitter memory once again. I just hope that the chances the MVP gets will be converted. No nonsense missings.

    Come on guys, just keep firing and be very sharp in front of goal. You do that then we will be winners.


  5. Muyideen Abdulganiyu says:

    I really go for that formation, but Sergio B. should be warned very well to remember that is playing back side in order to avoid overconfidence which he does at mid-field.

  6. Lockie17 says:

    Totally agree with Nic that the biggest loss for Arsenal is the absence of Song there only natural holding midfielder.
    Massive game and in the big games we very rarely fail (let’s hope and pray we don’t tomorrow)!
    A lot of the hype in England is that Arsenal are going through and were not a good as we are meant to be! Does anyone think the weaker Spanish league hampers us in Europe as playing against good teams doesn’t come around that often? Also great to see everyone posting again, great community we have here!

  7. blaugranaboy says:

    nic is correct above, a few hrs after i posted this, van persie was reported to have joined arsenal in their afternoon training session. its rather amazing how 3 weeks out turned into 2 days, so how fit he is, we will not know. will be interesting to see it he plays. i imagine he may come in as a sub if things arent going well

  8. SoCal_Gun says:

    Song being gone is huge…..I think Diaby will probably come in

    The biggest question is who will start up front for RVP. Bendtner has been hot, but I think that Wenger has tipped Chamakh to start b/c of his greater experience and technical ability…..but RVP travelled with the team and will probably come on as a sub. It would be great if he started though, with Bendtner moving to the wing, Nasri going to the middle, and Cesc dropping back

    Really should be a good game, Arsenal know that they need 1 more goal still.

  9. Fredegar says:

    Pretty nervous before this game. As Nic stated, if our forwards take their chances, we should be okay, but a lot can happen. Between the form of the day, the way luck will blow and potential difficult ref decisions, I can imagine a large array of possible results ranging from 4-1 Arsenal to 6-0 for us, though I don’t think it will end with a very low scoring game like a 1-0 either way.
    We are favourites and have in most cases answered well in the big games, though not in all of them in the CL, the return leg to Chelsea (despite the draw and qualification we were pretty poor on the night) and the first leg at Inter spring to mind, so we can’t take anything for granted.
    The mood of the Arsenal supporters seems to be that they are expecting to lose but still firmly believe that they have a chance of getting through, and I believe Arsenal players will be totally fired up for this game, so we certainly can’t wait for them to gift us the game.
    They also are in a far better shape on the injury front than they were one year ago, and in general look a better team. Their defensive partnership of Djourou and Koscielny has been very good, conceding very little in the league (and of course against us), despite the high profile blunder from the French in the CC final. The injuries to Song and Walcott will be a double blow, in the sense that they will be missed (a lot in the case of Song) in the starting line-up but will also reduce Wenger’s options when it will come to replacements, a department where he was able to hurt us in the first leg.
    But this is of course compounded by the absence of both our first choice center backs, even if we can reasonnably trust a Busquets-Abidal partnership. The big decision for Pep will be at left back, where I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Adriano play a similar role ad he did against Valencia.
    It’s a home game, we are clear favourites to progress, and if we play at our best I don’t think anything bad will happen to us, but Arsenal are a very unpredictable team, able to beat us or Chelsea, and then draw to Leyton Orient in the Cup or lose to Birmingham in the CC final, so if we are just a notch under full steam it could be an incredible game, and/or a big deception.
    The problem with setting the standards we have set in the last two seasons is that at the first failure to win anything, you are described as “not as good as you think you are”, and the pressure that brings is playing with my nerves. Just hope the team can once again, once more, show us that THEY are capable to handle it big time!

  10. bc9jaCulé says:

    It’s barely some minutes down 14:00hrs here in Nigeria and my heartbeat seems to be in overdrive already — the consequence of a tensed battle between opposin’ emotions, that is, the robust possibility of knockin’ Arsenal out and the slim probability of being knocked out by Arsenal simultaneously.

    I don’t wanna delve into the manifold indices characterizin’ this seemingly unpredictable tie and although I’m quite positive and very optimistic about our qualification, I must say that we just can’t afford to approach Arsenal with any form of levity, laxity and complacency. And I have this sneaky feeling that it will be a festivity of goals from our soccer warriors because I’m sure they crave for qualification just as much as every loyal culé does.

    Barça — 5
    Arsenal — 1

    Força Barça!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Visca Barça!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Fredegar says:

    Noises from the Arsenal camp say Van Persie could well start… Just a bluff? As I like Arsenal well in general the most worrisome issue for me would be an elimination for Barça with Arsenal looking to the end of the season without Fab and RvP cos’ they were risked too early in this game. Would be a real shame to finish the seasons of both teams in one game…

  12. barcacentralroger says:

    I am bricking it. But we’re going to win. Visca Barca!

  13. barcacentralnic says:

    Barcelona: Valdes, Dani Alves, Busquets, Abidal, Adriano, Xavi, Mascherano, Iniesta, Pedro, Villa, Messi.
    Subs: Pinto, Bojan, Keita, Milito, Maxwell, Afellay, Thiago.

    Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Wilshere, Diaby, Rosicky, Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie.
    Subs: Almunia, Denilson, Squillaci, Arshavin, Eboue, Chamakh, Bendtner.
    Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)

  14. SoCal_Gun says:

    As an Arsenal fan, Rosicky starting makes me nervous

    He’s got a ton of experience, but has looked shaky this yr. I think Arshavin should hav started, but now we hav a Super Sub. Finally, Diaby replaces Song as expected. He should be fine as long as he remembers to not stay too far up the pitch

    you guys are pretty much right….we Gunners know that Arsenal can beat Barca, but it’s gonna require a near perfect game; something Arsenal isn’t really known for

    COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!! it’s time to shock the world.

  15. barcacentralroger says:


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