How to beat Barcelona: Elneny, Le Coq and Rambo behind Ozil, Alexis and Theo

We will do a proper match preview tomorrow but let’s do a bit of tactics on our mega encounter with Barcelona on Tuesday night. We are lucky to have a large squad available, although it would have been perfect to have either Jack or Santi available as well. We can field a solid and experienced ‘back five’ and have many attackers available to find the right combination between helping out with defending and making things happen up-front. The latter has been a bit of struggle lately but this will have made our attackers the more desperate to find the net against such a high profile opponent; and I am confident that if we can create decent chances we will score tomorrow.

The midfield will be the key area for us and despite us missing two fabulous footballers in Santi and Jack, I still feel we could get the balance right tomorrow. Ozil is a given and will be key in linking midfield with attack: his running with and off the ball should form a constant positive for us. But who we will play around him, is still up for debate.

As Barcelona are likely to press us into our own half, whether we like it or not, we need to play compact wherever the ball is, whilst not leaving ourselves vulnerable in other areas. This Barcelona side is slightly different from the Guardiola era, playing more like a 4-1-2-3 with a preference to use the width of the field whenever they can. On the flanks they have of course world-class attackers in Messi and Neymar, supported by fast and furious attacking wing-backs. If we can prevent these players from getting behind our defence, we can achieve two things: stop them from being dangerous and force them into mistakes on which we can pounce, because we also have fabulous wing-backs and great attackers on the wings. Nacho-Alexis is a given, but who should be paired by the best 20 year old defender in the world? I reckon we should start with Belerin-Rambo and consider swapping Aaron with Danny Welbeck or Joel Campbell at some point in the game.

Rambo is normally my favourite box to box midfielder but I reckon we need to play him on the right for this one. We need to play with three central midfielders behind Ozil, who can all defend as well as play football to have a chance in keeping them away from our ‘D-area’: the other area we should not allow our opponent to get into.

So who else should play behind the German master of creating chances and assists? Le Coq is almost a given but only Wenger will know whether he is now fully up to speed for this game. So if it is Rambo and Coq who else should play in deep midfield (and deep we will be forced to sit for large parts of the game)? My guess is that Elneny will be preferred to Flamini, as he is a very good passer of the ball and has also, just like Rambo, that burst of speed and close control to stride forward with the ball. And it is this ability to defend and switch over to attack as soon as the ball is won that will make all the difference tomorrow. We all know that Santi and Jack are brilliant at the latter; but Aaron and Elneny are also good at this and better at defending, which I reckon will be the most important requirement skill tomorrow.

With Aaron, Francis and Elneny in the centre of midfield, we should be able to play very compact and yet be able to spring attacks whenever possible. Getting the ball to Ozil will of course be key, but we need more players that can receive the ball and keep hold of it for a wee while. And that brings us to our two attackers, the ones who play slightly in front of Ozil, if and when we can afford it.

Alexis is another given. The Chilean, of course, knows better than anybody else what Barcelona are like and this game might just come in time for him to show us all again how good he is. Let’s not forget that Sexy Alexis already has three goals and four assists in five CL games this season, and, despite a lack of sharpness in recent games, I would not bet against him to score/assist for us once again in this CL round tomorrow. The beauty of Alexis is that he can defend too and hold on to the ball like a midfielder if need be; and he can also pick a deadly pass. He is also fast and very valuable in counter-attacks, and with playing three holding/passing midfielders, we should at times be able to play him quite close to our main attacker tomorrow. Moving between defence and attack, Alexis will have a key role to play tomorrow: from supporting his full back against Messi and co, to strengthening our wall in midfield, to supporting our CF and Ozil in making things happen up-front.

The main attacker is, at least for me, the hardest choice to make. Theo seems the obvious choice here: his speed and clever runs will make Barcelona’s high line approach vulnerable. The only problem with Theo is that he will not be much use in helping out the rest of the team when we are being hemmed in, which will affect our ability to link up with our CF and get our midfield to move forward. Theo needs to be launched into space, but we will need him to help out in creating time and space to launch him into it in the first place…

With Ollie almost the reverse is the case. He will link up well and allow our midfielders to get involved in the attack but he is too slow to expose the Barca defenders when being launched into the vast space available behind them. Barcelona will fear Theo a lot more than Ollie, unless of course they have to defend set-pieces. In an ideal world we would play them both, but this would weaken our midfield which we just cannot afford.

I hear you shout: play Wellbeck! He is fast like Theo and can do decent link up play ala Ollie. I don’t think that is a bad shout at all, especially in a game like tomorrow’s. The problem is that Ollie is less lethal than Ollie and Theo, with  on average just one goal in every five PL games he played until now. He is also only just back from a long injury and this (extremely intense) game might just come a bit too early for him. Theo was very effective against high pressing teams this season, notably Bayern and Man Citeh, so I reckon he should start ahead of Ollie and Danny.

I reckon with this line up, a solid defensive performance lead by the BFG (who will be excellent as long as we play compact/deep for most of the time), a very disciplined performance by Aaron, Francis and Mohamed, and some re-found deadliness up-front, we could get a good result tomorrow.


Come On You

Rip Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

23 thoughts on “How to beat Barcelona: Elneny, Le Coq and Rambo behind Ozil, Alexis and Theo

  • Agree with 10 of the XI. (And even the other one I sorta agree.) Only gripe is Theo was infuriating v Hull again…he regularly is, equally capable of putting in a performance like that as he is like the supreme elite CF one he put in against Man u at home.

    Giroud cant start because quite simply his lack of pace means we can’t exploit Barca’s glaring weakness. Even if played alongside Theo/Ox/Alexis/Welbeck on the wing, those players will normally be further back helping defense, so quick counter-attacks are the way to go.

    Welbeck would be my preferred choice, but I understand concerns over his fitness. That said Theo played 90 minutes on Saturday and Welbeck only 60. Now that could either have been caution on Wenger’s part or him hinting at Welbeck’s role on Tuesday…though following that logic, Giroud is most likely to start, which unfortunately is what i expect will happen. (Unlike most I’m not anti Giroud and I value his skills A LOT, so me not wanting him to start has nothing to do with his abilities per se, but more the specific opponent.)

    Welbeck as you rightly said is a bit of Theo and Giroud, hence ideal, if he cant start, then Theo should get the nod.

    Really pray Wenger goes with the Coquelin-Elneny pivot.

    We have nothing to lose [game aside 😉 ] and basically get a free shot at Barca with zero expectations, let’s at least try something new. Good thinking TA.

  • I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written. It’s too bad santi and jack are unavailable for this game because they’re both good at playing out of pressure. Wilshere put in a good performance against them when he was breaking into the first team before all the injuries. Will be interesting to see how elneny does against a quality opponent if he gets the nod.

  • Ask Guardiola…he’d tell you the player Barca feared most was Theo…and they still do. Fortunately for them Theo was always injured in most clashes against them. Twice he played…we came back from 0 – 2 after Theo was introduced in second half…and beat them 2 -1 the only time he started…Theo has never played against them at camp Nou owing to injuries.

    Yeah, Theo is terribly wasteful these days…annoyingly wasteful, knowing he was the most clinical in the team…but he’s always been a big game player, especially in the UCL. Milan, Liverpool, etc will always remember.

    Giroud should play from the bench. Elneny is technically good and should pair Ciquelin.

    There are three players we can subdue Barca with – Theo, Sanchez and Bellerin…that’s why Ramsey should play from the right wing to cover Bellerin’s incursions. Unfortunately Welbeck won’t be quite ready…I expect him to join Sanchez and Theo in the front three for second leg.

  • D-M, all agreed, especially on the Ollie front. Love the guy but this is a Theo/Alexis game, given style and calibrate of opponent.

    I had another thought. What if he plays Alexis, Theo and Danny up front?

  • Nice appraisal T A and have to admit, I have no idea what is going on inside Monsieur Wengers mind. my best guess is the following

    I don’t believe Wenger won’t start with Giroud. If he is in the right frame of mind, Theo could make a difference but I don’t think it will happen.

    Secondly I don’t think Wenger will play Elneny, he will play either Rambo or Flamini along side Coquelin (assuming he is match fit) I suspect he may stick Rambo out right, to provide cover for Bellerin.

    So not the team I would pick , but I think Wenger might try the following


    Bellerin, Kos, BFG, Monreal

    Flamini, Coquelin

    Rambo Ozil Alexis



  • TA, your line up looks perfect, except nothing appears perfect enough against Barca. So I will put your line up back into the crucible, apply further heat to see if something different crystallizes.

    As you indicated, Barca will compress us, so we must think defense a lot. Starting point is a formation change from 4:2:3:1 to 4:3:3. I have not opted for 4:4:2 or 4:5:1 because against Barca, offense should be regarded as an element of defense, which is still thinking defense in a very inventive way.

    In defending agaist Barca we need players who are quite good at controling space without the ball particularly along our 1st defensive bank.

    Our usual back five is a given. Le Coq is excellent at controlling space without the ball. Elneny seem to know something about it too. Next in line, all things considered is Rambo.

    For the front three, we need at least 2 players with pace plus good defensive energy. Welbeck and Sanchez for you. The final spot goes to a creative genius, our dear Mesut Ozil.

    Line up:


    Sub: Ospina, Chambers, Gab, Gibbs, Camp, Walcott, Giroud.

    This team will be resilient compressed and devastating whenever it catapults out.

  • You could be right re Elneny/Flamini Retsubster. Having the additional engine of either will help the team, so whether it is Mohamed or Matthieu doesn’t matter too much, but I have a feeling Wenger will go for the Egyptian.

  • Hey PE, it’s been a while since you were on BK! Good to see you back.

    I like your line up too and I could see it work. I think Theo is the better finisher and seems to have no nerves in these sort of games, so that is why I would pick him ahead of Danny-Boy. 🤓

  • Great line up TA. And who knows. Elneny not physically right for PL yet, but should be technically fine for Spanish team. But it would still be a surprise for me. The back 5 are surely not in question, barring injury. In front though my feeling would be:

    Coq Rambo
    Danny/Campbell Ozil Sanchez

    We need the drive and work rate on the right as you suggest. Either of these two bring that, but with added pace. Pace on both flanks means we need it less in the middle, so Giroud for me there. Is this the game to start a brand new DM pairing? Surely not. Son with no Santi available the Coq/Rambo pivot is the next best we’ve got.

    We are all assuming that the Ox doesn’t start. And his defensive weakness on the right would really worry me. But the weekend selection has all the feel of him being in our starting line up. I hope I’m wrong – not that I have a big downer on the guy – but I don’t think this is the game for him, and I fear for Bellerin if there’s no cover down our right.

    Theo is such a hard one to read for this game. He could be totally out of it – and he would be very isolated with the 11 you’ve chosen here TA. But with the right break pass from Ozil he could also be lethal. Choices choices. My bet is he is on our bench as an impact sub rather than a starter. I can’t wait to see the selection strategy as it unfolds.

    As said above, this feels like a game we don’t have to win – few expect us to. But its a really good test of how this squad is coming together and what we might be capable of. I hope Sanchez and Coq have shaken off their rust, and in which case I think we can be competitive tomorrow and could yet surprise them.

  • Hey AB,
    How is it hanging? 😄

    Good shout on Giroud and speed from the wing. I reckon our wingers will be pressed back a lot and we need additional speed in the middle, which Theo has to offer. On the other hand, Ollie gets more involved and wins time for our mid wingers to get forward…

  • Hi.. Morning all..
    Very exciting moment to face Barca again.. Hehehe..
    Can we play a totally new formula..??
    4-3-3 without any CF..??
    Back Four or Five.. No Doubt.. With Gabriel injured.. We don’t have any other choice..
    And because we knew Mertecaker is our most weakest.. Covering him with other DM will be needed..
    Flamini – Coquelin – Elneny playing together as our trio DM.. Hahaha.. Will it be great.. I think so.. We need a solid midfielders and also a long shooter.. Pity we lost Cazorla, but we can rely on Elneny for that..
    Ramsey – Ozil – Sanchez as our trio AM and also our striker.. They all can scores.. I think it will work.. But I afraid no one will support me.. Hehehe..
    I don’t really know about false 9.. But Flamini can shock them with goal if we play this formula..
    They will surprise.. We will also.. Hahahaha..

  • Cheers HeheheheHenry 😉

    The BFG has a weakness but he is not our weakest player. We will need his overview and interceptions, organisation and leadership skills…

  • Sorry TA.. Maybe the slowest is better than the weakest.. Hehehe..
    I wish Suarez left behind because of his Visa.. Hahahaha.. I Scared him more than Messi.. Hihihi..
    7 hours before Showtime.. Wish all our men will be fit.. Go Gunners..

  • Hi TA… Up fairly early with plenty of stuff to do before my lunchtime kick-off… Surprised not to see the match preview up, but maybe I’m confused about which of us was gonna put it out…

    If it does go out, folks will see that my take is a bit different. To me, AW’s ideas about the team selection seem pretty clear based on who played vs Hull. In other words, I’m guessing at 9 changes from that one, with only the BFG and Kos forced to start again due to Gabby’s injury.

    To me, the tactical ideas are pretty straightforward. Without Santi available, our ability to spring (the ball) forward on the break is compromised and thus we need the big figure of Giroud up top. It’s not aesthetically ideal and surely the Spanish press will mock us for our Futbol Ingles, but I envision plenty of balls backward to Cech then punted towards big Ollie, with the objective of bypassing the MF entirely… His presence at set pieces, however, along with the BFG, could help us. Of course, if we put our CBs forward for corners/Fks there will be extraordinary pressure on the FBs and whoever else stays back to prevent Barca from breaking on good clearances… Just as Monaco punished us on the break (repeatedly) in this same round a year ago, we cannot allow Barca to do likewise–even if we feel we’ve got to take a lead back to the Camp Nou to have any chance at all… Let’s not forget, nil-nil is a great scoreline for the first leg. If Arsenal were to advance with a pair of draws Barca could take solace that (at least) they kept their unbeaten run going… 😀

    That’s basically the preview I wrote in far fewer words… Maybe we should skip it and do a live-blog post instead?…

  • New Post

    (TA, the “football formation” has been disappearing from the drafts lately, but then when you preview or publish it, there it is…Sorry for the confusion…)

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