Evening all. Although we face Hull City in the FA Cup on Saturday, with all due respect to Chuba and chums, thoughts are understandably beginning to turn to the visit of Barcelona this time next week.
I haven’t seen Barca play for the full ninety for a while but if the highlights of their last league match, when Messi, Suarez and Neymar seemed to go full unplayable mode, are indicative of their current form, it’s a game and tie I’m kinda dreading rather than excitedly anticipating like I really ought to be. A Gooner friend is so convinced we’ve got no chance against them that he suggested we play a reserve team!
Now I would never, ever, suggest that, but looking at the two teams, especially with us being without the injured Santi Cazorla, I’m struggling to see how we can possibly beat the reigning Champions League winners over the two legs.
But Arsene Wenger, the eternal optimist that he is, spoke to Arsenal Player recently and suggested our famous win over the Catalans at Emirates stadium in 2011 should ‘help us’ when we play again next week. He said:
The memory [I have] is that the winning goal was scored by Arshavin after we suffered for a big part of the game – we should be encouraged by that. We suffered in the first half and in the second half we slowly came back into the game and became very dangerous. That should help us in our [upcoming] game against Barcelona. If we have uncomfortable moments then we should have in our minds that we can still win even if it is difficult. It was really special [to win in 2011]. What I also remember as well is that it reminded me of how football is really as a team because you can deliver something exceptional. Three or four days later we went to Leyton Orient and drew in the FA Cup. In the same week that we were on a high, we were down again, but it will certainly be remembered as one of the exceptional nights at the Emirates.
And it certainly was exceptional. Jack Wilshere produced his best performance in an Arsenal shirt as we came from a goal down to beat the eventual winners that year. But the trouble with using that game as a confidence-booster is only three players involved that night are still at the club – Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Wilshere – with the latter of course being unavailable for next week’s game due to injury.
Still, I guess I know what Arsene means and if a side as poor as that Chelsea one in 2012 can beat Barca over two legs on the way to winning the competition, there’s no reason we can’t emulate that achievement with a little luck this year …
The boss hasn’t been the only one to reminisce about our win over Barca recently, his former long-term number two Pat Rice did the same when he spoke on the Arsenal Weekly podcast, saying:
I remember that Wojciech Szczesny was absolutely outstanding in the opening 20 minutes. He was absolutely brilliant and he kept us in the game. If he wasn’t in that kind of form then it could have been a cricket score by 20 minutes. What I remember most, though, is that the actual fightback by the boys was just incredible. When you take into consideration how we actually played and how well Barcelona played in the opening 20 minutes, it was remarkable that we won that match. Time will tell whether we can do that again this season, but hopefully history will repeat itself when we meet them again.
That game wasn’t the only time we clawed back a deficit against Barcelona at Emirates stadium of course, a year earlier in March 2010, we came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and the thing that was very noticeable to me in both games was how the visitors dropped off physically after 70 minutes.
All four of our goals in the two games came after 69 minutes or later and it didn’t surprise me at the time. If there’s one quality we have going for us over Barcelona as a side it’s definitely stamina, mainly because we play in a higher-intensity league and are therefore naturally better conditioned to last the pace.
Although many ridicule the boss for almost always making substitutions around the 70-minute-mark, I’m certain there’s some science dictating that tendency of his and although I can’t be certain, I think if we studied the statistics we’d find he was absolutely right to persevere with substitutions based on numbers rather than his reading of the game at any given time. Of course not always, but certainly as a general rule.
The trick then, is basically to stay in the game as long as possible so that we still have something to play for in the final portion of the game to take to Camp Nou in the second leg. The Bayern Munich game at Emirates stadium earlier this season should be the blueprint really, and again, our two goals against the Germans arrived late in the game after we’d ridden our luck a little in the earlier stages.