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!