‘It is a bit of an illusion to go to Barcelona and think they will not score. We need to score at least one goal’ - Arsene Wenger.
Today we play Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the second leg of our first knockout round tie in the Champions League. The first leg ended 2-1 to The Arsenal and it was the football purists’ dream game of football. The world witnessed the highest standard of slick passing football, and it was a game that gave us three fantastic goals and many more missed opportunities.
Despite considering myself a football purist I would gladly see a gritty, messy (not Messi), and boring draw. However, reiterating AW’s quote above, you would have to be slightly deluded to expect us to prevent Barcelona from scoring. In fact, I expect them to score a few goals, which is why I believe we need to score at least two goals ourselves. When a Jose Mourinho side gets beaten 5-0 there, you know you’re going to have to score goals to stand a chance of progressing to the next round. The Boss was, however, quick to counter preconceived ideas coming from the Spanish press that Arsenal only know how to attack and not defend:
‘We prefer to attack, but having kept 7 clean sheets in the Premier League out of the last 11, we know how to defend too’ – AW
The team news is mixed. We already knew that Theo and Vermaelen would not play, but we have since learned that Song joins the list of absentees. However, we were delighted to find out that RVP, Cesc and Wilshere all made the squad and having those three available gives us a real chance. With Song absent the question is whether to replace him with Denilson or Diaby. As pointed out by Dev on twitter yesterday Denilson offers the greater work-rate, but Diaby has height and a bit more skill. Others have said that slower-paced La Liga would suit Denilson’s style better.
It’s a tricky one and I had to think long and hard before I came to a conclusion…which is that I would opt for Diaby. The thing is this – both players tend to frustrate the fans with inadequate effort, delivery and overall performance. However, about once in every 15 games Diaby pulls off a magical performance, providing sound defensive cover and elegant and skillful attacking prowess. The way I see it, we’re going to need a little bit of a miracle to win tonight anyway, so play Diaby, and hope he has one of those nights. Denilson does tend to have a better work-rate but Diaby has more to offer going forward. Given the above analysis on needing to score goals I believe we should field the player who is more likely to help us to achieve that objective.
So, here is my predicted line-up:
Sagna Djourou Koscielny Clichy
24 Hours ago when I wrote the first draft of this blog, I wrote about Bendtner in this paragraph. I put a positive angle on why he would help us win the game and how his aerial ability would threaten their makeshift defence. With both Pique and Puyol out I suggested he would offer us a threat from the air that Barca are not accustomed to. I can go one better now and say that RVP will be the warrior up front. Something that hasn’t been said anywhere is the personal demon that exists in RVP’s head when playing Barca. Remember, he lost a World Cup final last year to most of this Barca team and I reckon he’s got that little bit of extra incentive to get one over them. RVP has got to bring his A-game and I think that he will as long as he is playing completely injury-free.
How do we win tonight? The ultimate question, but I think the answer is easier than it seems. We don’t need to win. A 3-2 defeat would see us qualify. However a 3-2 defeat requires us to score goals. Goalscoring opportunities against a side that Arsene has already conceded will have at least 60% of the possession will be hard to come by. However we will create chances, especially against a weakened Barcelona defence. The key will be to take our chances, or even half-chances. You could say that neither of our goals in the first leg were clear goalscoring opportunities but we scored two goals from them. We will need more of the same.
A lot of us are fearing that this week will be what has become our annual capitulation. There seems to be a one or two week period in March/April where we crash out of all competitions in one go. I think we’ve had enough of those, don’t you? How about instead of a capitulation, this week is one of glory and one we will remember for years to come. They owe it to us. There is no shame in losing to Barcelona, I don’t fear it. But what does beating them mean?
‘We know we can beat Barcelona. If we beat them again we know we have a good chance of winning the tournament’ - Jack Wilshere
Dev will be at the game so stay tuned to the @worldofarsenal twitter account for some updates (and some pics, please Dev?). I think we have a 9000-strong Red and White army at the ground tonight so sing your hearts out boys and bring home a place in the next round. We can do this!
‘Barcelona are a very difficult opponent but we just want to win. If you ask any player, he would give his life to win this match’ - Arsene Wenger.