Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. This isn’t any old semana of course, for tomorrow evening we welcome the footballing behemoths that are Barcelona to Emirates stadium for the third time in six years.
After a draw and a win on our last two encounters with the Catalans at home, completing a hat-trick of unbeaten contests is clearly the minimum requirement if we are to have any chance whatsoever of progressing to the next round of the Champions League at the Camp Nou in three weeks’ time.
As we build up to the game, Arsene Wenger explained how he thinks Barca’s style has evolved since the two sides last met. Speaking at his pre-match press conference he said:
They look like they have a little less possession than when we played them before because they had a player like Xavi in midfield who, in every single game, had over 100 passes and he allowed them always to have possession. At the moment they have a team who, at any moment, can score. Even when they are dominated, they are still very dangerous. That happened in the Champions League final last year against Juventus – when it was 1-1 they were a bit suffering, but in one moment they could take advantage of any weakness to score to make it 2-1. That is where they are dangerous. They are a bit less possession-based, but quicker in the transition. Certainly offensively they have top, top strikers at the moment. We have to use every moment in the game where we have the chance to score, and as I said after the Hull game, we had 70 per cent of the time the ball but we didn’t make a lot of it. Against Barcelona we will have the ball far less and we will have to make more of it.
Whilst it’s true they do tend to be more direct more often these days, from what I’ve seen of them these last couple of seasons when Xavi’s barely played, their greatest strength is still monopolizing the ball.
They still pass and move all over the pitch better than any team I’ve ever seen but as Arsene rightly points out, whereas in the past they had David Villa and Pedro, in Neymar and Luis Suarez they have two more individuals in attack joining Lionel Messi in being able to conjure a goal from nowhere all by themselves. And Arsene was full of praise for Barca’s three attacking amigos when he spoke earlier, saying:
They are the most efficient. They are top, top class. Individually they have exceptional talent. The only way we can stop them is by being collectively resilient, having great solidarity and intelligence as well. Let’s not forget we have a good defensive record and a great goalkeeper as well. When you see the other day that Messi scored his 300th [La Liga] goal in less than 340 games, I’ve seen many strikers in my life, but I’ve never seen a record like that. I remember we played the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2006. He [Messi] was injured at the time and couldn’t play the final. That’s where he started already to have a reputation. That’s 10 years later, so it’s remarkable what he has achieved between 2006 and now.
And that’s just the front three covered! Then there’s Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in midfield, plus the two relentlessly overlapping fullbacks, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, to consider, not to mention their quality and experience at centre-back.
Yep, it’s going to take some performance by us to win this one and Olivier Giroud, who joined Arsene at his pre-conference earlier today, said Barca look ‘unstoppable’. Yet he remains confident we can emerge victorious providing we are confident, committed and determined. He said:
We would love to beat them because they look unstoppable. We need to play our best game all together and at 100 per cent. Otherwise we’re not going to play this game and we’re going to lose it. We are confident, we need to be confident and play the Arsenal way. We did well against Munich. We know that we can beat big teams but there is one thing for sure: we need to be at 100 per cent and be determined. We just need to focus and give 100 per cent all together with good team cohesion. After that we will put what we need into this game – a lot of commitment and determination. We managed that against Bayern and that will help us to win. We did very well against Olympiacos to qualify as it was very hard. We are looking forward to playing Barcelona who are maybe the best team in the world today. We are going to play our game.
Whatever happens, It’s nights like these that fans and players look forward to most in a season, when we can see how we match up against the very best the game has to offer.
Despite being under-dogs and expected to get blown away, there’s always a chance we could spring a surprise and produce another ARSHAVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN moment that leads to an unlikely win.
Back tomorrow with thoughts on how we might line-up in a preview post.