Evening folks and welcome to preview number one of the game this midweek – it’s Arsenal vs Barcelona, and it will be a great tie. A true footballing tie of two pure footballing teams. For the neutral, you couldn’t ask for a more scintillating tie. Barcelona have looked on at Arsenal during the years when we’ve hit the dizzy heights, a la Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Ljungberg. Many years later, we now look at the Barcelona team and wait to see a certain Lionel Messi come out of the tunnel – most people call him the best player in the world, and I can’t really disagree.
Playing in Spain is something that offers a slower game and yes, Messi has played well, very well this season, but he certainly would not have been afforded that much space in the Premiership. Never. And that’s what our game plan has to be – simply to deny Messi space – play as normal. Ensure we’re defensively solid and then attack, attack, attack. Yes, Barcelona have Messi, yes they have our old man Thierry and players like Xavi (who is officially fit after earlier injury worries), Ibrahimovic and of course little Iniesta (who is injured)… But we have little Andrei Arshavin, the man in form – Samir Nasri, captain fantastic, Cesc Fabregas and a supporting cast of Walcott, Rosicky and Diaby.
Really, trying to be objective and neutral, it’s made me think that these two teams are actually quite evenly matched – I think it’s time to look at the two probable teams…
Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
Alves – Puyol – Pique – Maxwell
Song – Diaby
Keita – Toure
Nasri – Cesc – Arshavin
Messi - Xavi – Henry
So, there we have it – two teams – the same formation and two sets of personnel. Let’s compare…
Almunia vs Valdes
Whether it’s down to the defence or the goalkeeping, 34 goals conceded versus 18 goal conceded is a big difference. Almunia’s reputation was at an all time low this season until his understudy Fabianski showed how bad you can get… Without having seen much of Valdes but having heard a fair amount, it’s safe to say he wins the battle of the goalkeepers.
Campbell / Vermaelen vs Puyol / Pique
The ex-Manchester United defender has been quite impressive since his move to Barcelona and in the last couple of games, has looked decent. His weakness is that he can get turned quickly, something that Arshavin, Nasri and Bendtner can exploit, whereas Puyol doesn’t have the positional sense that his colleague does, you’ll see him – a la Kolo Toure – sometimes too forward or sometimes too much to the right. With our two, we’ve got two extremes – Campbell has extreme physical presence, but lacks in pace. He can deal with the extra-ordinary height and aerial ability of Ibrahimovic. Vermaelen, on the other hand has pace to deal with the likes of Messi.
It’s a draw
Clichy / Sagna vs Alves / Maxwell
With the absence of Abidal. Maxwell has seen an extended run in the first team and whilst he is good going forward, he is definitely suspect in the art of defending – the same goes for Alves, who has one of the best crosses for a right back, but is small and isn’t great in the tackle. Whereas Clichy and Sagna have proved that they are very effective going forward and defensive. Clichy had a massive dip in form at the turn of the year, but he has come back in a strong vein of form. Back to the old Clichy we all know and love.
Clichy and Sagna win
Song / Diaby vs Keita / Toure
Song and Diaby – for me are miles ahead of any two players in the “shield” position. Song has single handedly proved every single Arsenal fan wrong and gone from zero to hero. He is the first name on the team sheet and combined with Diaby, another player who has gone from being a mistake to an enigma. He, like Song, has proved to be an excellent acquisition – his attacking instinct is what makes him so effective. Whereas looking at Keita and Toure, both players normally vie for the same position with Iniesta and Xavi playing with them, but more recently they have had time together. However, both Toure and Keita have had a lot of time out of the team – to the point where they’ve both been first choice and both been left out of squad. Don’t get me wrong, they are both effective as defensive midfielders, Keita with a shot on him. In reality, though, I’d say that our two edge it over them…
Song and Diaby win
Nasri vs Messi
Nasri has been one of our most influential players in the last couple of weeks – his goal against Porto an exhibition of his footballing ability, but right now, he has one player in the world who is simply sensational right now in Lionel Messi. It pains me to say this because I think Nasri is a match winner for us, but surely Messi has to win?
Cesc vs Xavi
Cesc has based his game on Xavi – the master and the student – but where we are right now, there is hardly a difference between the two. Xavi has been recently injured, so let’s hope that he can’t perform at the highest level – but Cesc has been in the wars too, so it’s going to be even stevens in this department.
It’s a draw
Arshavin vs Henry
Ouch, difficult one? On one hand we have our little crazy Russian and on the other hand we have one of our greatest legends. I’m not going to probe any further into the comparisons between the two, but Arshavin is surely the player on form and the one who can make a difference.
Bendtner vs Ibrahimovic
If you asked me this question a year ago, I would have laughed at you – that is how lowly rated Niklas Bendtner was – but now his stock has raised, whilst Ibrahimovic’s stock has declined rapidly since his £76million part exchange move. Ibra, unlike our Nikki B, does have the ability to score a goal out of nothing, and aerial ability in abundance. He also has years of experience at clubs like Ajax and Inter Milan. Ask me again in a year…
There we have it, an overview of the two teams. Writing this does instill me with confidence, the benches look good in our favour too, with the likes of Walcott and Eboue ready to inject some pace into the team… til tomorrow…