Arsenal v Barcelona: PREVIEW
Tommorow night, an awe-inspiring spectacle between football’s romantic-tika-taka guru’s will take place at the Emirates Stadium. It is not often that Arsenal and Barcalona face each other — but when they do, it is a highly-anticipated sure-to-be fairytale between football’s two highly-regarded demonstrators of the ‘beautiful game’.
This round of 16 tie will be the fourth set of matches the sides have met in Europe: the most notable being the infamous final in Paris back in 2006. Wenger’s Arsenal have only ever beaten Barca once: a monumental night at the Emirates back in 2010 whereby I particularly recall Laurent Koscielny’s stunt double turning up to the game to play superman. They will be hoping to repeat that result tonight and be on their way to knocking out their arguably-superior role models.
For many Arsenal fans, they will feel their side is the best prepared they’ve ever been to being capable of overthrowing the Catalan giants. With their new found powerhouse spark they have acquired in recent years due to Wenger’s compromised financial leniency, the Gunners could well match Barcalona’s star-studded 11. Signings like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, who would have faced eachother in the El-Clasico, will bring a new belief to the Arsenal fans — who in today’s game are arguably a level up from the 2010 pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie that failed to pull their side through during the last meeting of the two sides.
Mesut Ozil’s effortless ninety minute gliding of the pitch has been the pinnacle of Arsenal’s grace this season. He has become a talisman and many will see him as the key to unlocking Barca’s defence. In fact, there will be no doubt in Arsenal’s ability to score against Barcalona, the worry will be whether Koscielny can deal with Suarez; whether Monreal can harness Messi; and whether the race between Bellerin and Neymar will be as even as it seems on paper. Ozil has 17 assists in 24 games for Arsenal this season compared to Andres Iniesta’s measly 1 in 17. It is details like this that give the fans hope. In contrast, Olivier Giroud has netted 12 goals in 26 games for the Gunners; this is a long-shot off of Suarez’s magical return of 25 goals in 24 games — the man that Wenger has pinpointed as vital to stopping if his side are to stand a chance.
Sanchez faces his former side for the first time since making the switch to Arsenal in summer 2014. He hasn’t quite echoed the formidable energy that led to his rise to prominence as Arsenal’s star player last season. His form will be key in the set of events that occur tonight. If Sanchez is on top of his game, he will be pivotal in Arsenal getting a result.
With Coquelin back from injury, Arsenal will feel like they are better equipped to cope with the overwhelming weaponry Barca boast had Flamini been protecting the back four. This is a major boost. Coq has emerged as the closest thing the Gunners have had to Patrick Viera. He will be expected to start alongside Ramsey tommorow night.
Arsenal come off the back of a dismal 0–0 to Hull in the FA Cup, whereas Barca have enjoyed a 13-match winning streak. This alone may point towards an inevitable result regardless of Arsenal’s newly developed enchantment. Barca will arrive at the Emirates confident of victory, but will be perhapsbe the most wary they have been in Europe for a long time. There is an irreputable air of mutual respect between the two given their similar playing styles. Arsenal are often accused of ‘trying to be Barcalona,’ however for those who appreciate the pairs’ mode of operation the prospect of this showdown can only be celebrated. Despite the result of the game, we are surely in for a treat.