Arsenal-Barcelona Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. The Toughest Test Brings Out the Best. Maybe?

For all the angst and effort put forth in making it through the group stage, Arsenal had to hope for something a bit less daunting than drawing the defending champions in the first elimination round of this season’s Champions League.  Ah well, so it goes. Barcelona.  Again.

Playing in the final in Paris in May of 2006 was both thrilling and exceptionally frustrating.  Going down to 10 men but also nicking a lead allowed belief to creep in. Thierry Henry had that chance to double it, but when he didn’t, what ensued seemed all too inevitable.

With this year’s draw, Arsenal have now hit the Catalans in the eliminations for the third time and a similar sense of fate hovers over the proceedings.

In 2010 it was a quarterfinal match-up and Arsenal eked out a late 2-2 draw in our home stadium through a Cesc Fabregas penalty.  In the away leg we actually got the lead through Nicklas Bendtner before Lionel Messi scored four goals for Barca to prevail with an aggregate score of 6-3.

The following season we met in this round and Arsenal won the home leg in memorable fashion.  Robin Van Persie scored a tight angled equalizer before Andrey Arshavin completed a fantastic counterattacking move to set the stadium rocking.  Unfortunately, in the away leg, after Abou Diaby scored, RVP got sent off, and, despite another opportunity for Bendtner to stake us to a lead–one v one with the onrushing keeper–we were unable to overcome the man advantage and eventually succumbed by a scoreline of 3-1, 4-3 on aggregate.

That was five years ago and many of the faces have changed. Arsenal, arguably, are better prepared with big money purchases like Mesut Ozil and Barcelona cast-off Alexis Sanchez in the fold.  Petr Cech is the goalkeeper who kept Barca at bay in the semifinals in 2012, the year Chelsea won the tournament.

Unfortunately, Barca have also strengthened.  Controversy surrounded the moves which secured both Neymar and Luis Suarez, but bans (for transfer impropriety and biting) have been served (by both the club and the toothy player) and the team seems to be peaking at the correct time. Last year they won the treble (La Liga, Copa del Rey and CL) and this season they are on pace to do so in even more dominant fashion.  Currently they have an eight point advantage in La Liga and are in the finals of the Copa having won the semifinals by an aggregate scoreline of 8-1.  They are heavy favorites, of course, to advance at Arsenal’s expense in this tournament.

So, no pressure for the home team…

Well, not exactly…

Nearly a decade may have passed since that final in Paris but it’s also coincided with Arsenal’s move into their bigger, more modern stadium, the venue which was supposed to allow us to compete-financially and on the pitch–with the European Giants.  The global financial crisis set back Arsenal’s Highbury redevelopment scheme as did board members selling a majority of ownership shares to Stan Kroenke.  Ownership by the American billionaire, a man not inclined to invest extra funds into any of his sporting properties, means our increased financial strength comes only through increased match day revenues.

While those funds have allowed us to buy cast-offs from freer spending clubs and enabled us to resist overtures from those same clubs by increasing players’ wages, they have naturally not made for the happiest of supporters.  Nor have they leveled the playing field with the clubs willing to make big losses.  Even now, the papers are reporting that Barcelona are trying to make contact with Ozil’s agents, much as they might have before buying Henry in 2007 and Fabregas in 2011.  In the decade since the Paris final, Barca have won the CL and the Copa three times each and their league five times; our only trophies in the intervening years have been the pair of FA Cups won in the past two campaigns.  We’re competing decently in both that cup as well as the Premier League this season but are playing with nowhere near the dominance Barca are demonstrating..

As such, some might argue that if they knock us out of the Champions league it could be for the best, so that we can keep our eyes well focused on the domestic front(s), notably our first chance at a league title in a dozen years.I humbly disagree and believe we should banish such thoughts about”silver linings.”

In fact we seem to have good depth in the squad even if results haven’t coincided with surmounting a winter injury crisis.  Losing three starters–Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Alexis–at the end of November seemed portentous,  but we got through the crowded festive period with only one defeat and no draws in all competitions, capped perhaps by a pair of 3-nil wins vs Dynamo Zagreb and at Olympiakos in our Champions League group to advance under great pressure.  Since the middle of January, however, while we’ve only lost one match, we’ve drawn four and only won three.  Perhaps with more players available we’re struggling a bit to find our best form and combinations.  More games might allow more chances to iron out the wrinkles.

That includes the replay we now face due to our most recent result, a nil-nil at home in the FA Cup vs Hull City.  A similar result vs Barca would be ideal given the away goals rule. Let’s go for it…

Or maybe we can go one (or more) better and nick some goals on the counterattack, much as we did against our most formidable opponent in the group stage, Bayern Munich.  Surely the home match against the Bavarians must be seen as the blueprint for this one: cede possession, defend our goal and hope to take a chance–or two–as we did vs Bayern.

In my view, the team basically picks itself, especially given an injury to center back Gabriel Paulista.  The Brazilian had started every match since Per Mertesacker’s red card vs Chelsea and many Gooners liked his superior closing pace.  Arsene Wenger’s choice may be moot in that case but he may have a little thinking to do further forward.  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I think, will start on the right and Olivier Giroud as our #9, although Theo Walcott played in that role vs Bayern in the autumn.  Those three (and the rest of the squad) have struggled for goals in the new year but the Ox broke a long drought at Bournemouth while Giroud and Walcott combined to score vs Leicester.  Could Danny Welbeck get a run having proved the hero in the more recent league match?  Possibly, but my hunch is that it would be from the subs bench.  Here’s the eleven I think AW will start:

Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Elneny, Walcott, Welbeck

This one has to be seen as the ultimate test as well as a fantastic opportunity.  It’s a match that must be played with complete discipline but also a measure of freedom and no inhibition when the ball comes our way.  Barcelona’s threats are so myriad I hate to even list them.  I will say that we should beware too much focus on the trio of South American forwards (Neymar, Suarez and Messi) as midfielders like Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic tend to take advantage of too much focus on the others while their defenders also get forward like no other team’s.  One area of potential weakness could be in their size at set pieces.  If we can create the pressure to make them foul us or put balls behind for corners we might be able to take advantage.  An imposing atmosphere and total commitment to the cause (but not stupidity and too many players too far forward) might help level the playing field, at times at least.

Do that and get a few fortunate bounces and I say, “Why Not?”

I’m sorry I cannot be more (objectively) optimistic. If the truth be told, football–much more than Arsenal, in fact–in the decade since we played the Paris final against the Catalans, has disappointed me on many levels.  Money and cynicism, with top players and clubs finding new ways to explore venality, if not criminal levels of corruption, not to mention the hoarding of talent, mar what we would hope to be a superior spectacle on the pitch.  (See, for example, Barcelona choosing an Emirate, Qatar, for a shirt sponsor over UNICEF…)  Arsenal have built slowly over this period and, I believe, have held their own against the “progress” of English and Continental clubs willing to burn up billions of pounds (or Euros) and blur the edges of fair practice.  The only place to prove that our way is the right way and that we belong at the top of the sport, however, is to do it on the pitch against such clubs.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

43 thoughts on “Arsenal-Barcelona Match Preview, Predicted Line-up. The Toughest Test Brings Out the Best. Maybe?

  • Thanks HT and TA in the previous post. Both are fine pre-match analysis & commentary starters with well thought out arguments, and that’s why I keep returning to read here. HT thanks for sharing your disappointment about football and money in general it is very sad and while I don’t follow the footy obsessively I do follow it more than any other sports .. sometimes I wonder why .. but the game is so beautiful I can’t help it. Once all is said and done it comes down to the players on the pitch and this game will be a real footballing spectacle, I can’t wait! Having said that I go for the tactics you mention we used against Bayern, add some grit and take some of the beauty out of the play. It would be great to see Coq and Elneny together for these games but it might be a bit too early for Elneny so I just about go with your Coqbo combo I think Welbeck would be better than Ox for this one both in technical decision making and defensively. Cheers.

  • Thanks FMJ… I was beginning to think I’d rather killed the optimism here…

    I like you’re idea about Welbeck on the right and I think AW could easily try that one out in games that we need to win. Like I tried to say (and did actually say in a comment at the bottom of the last post) this is a tie that you can actually win with a pair of draws due to the away goal rule. I think for this one we need more of a MF type over there on the right. Ramsey was that guy when Santi was available, but, now that he isn’t, I think it goes to the Ox. Both Ramsey and Ox can be guilty of overplaying (overconfidence?…) out of defense (American spelling…) so they need to be extra-careful and willing to put a boot through the ball if the Barca press is in full effect.

    Truth be told, I haven’t watched too much of the Spanish football this season but the little I have suggests Luis Enrique is a bit less about the immediate pressing of the ball and more about retreat and defend and then push it up through the lines. They miss Xavi (as we miss Santi) but have plenty of skill and athleticism at the FB and MF positions…

    Another crazy element is that they use different keepers (the bigger one for the CL) with no apparent loss of quality…

    Cheers again for the comment…

  • Thanks Seventeenho for a quality preview full of knowledge and personal views. Good to read back about the recent history between the teams and yes we are not at the same leve as them yet. But we have a fit squad, or there about, and. Reckon Wenger will Magic a rabbit out of the hat tonight.

    Your line up could be the one, but I think it would be wrong to play Ox and even my favourite Giroud as starters. This game is made for Theo to start in my opinion, but I have said enough about that in my previous post.

    I would love us to use diagonal passes from one wing to the other as to release pressure and use the space available on the other wing. Maybe we should start with Alexis-Ozil-Welbeck and Theo as C; or yes, maybe Ollie as CF but with a big task in getting Danny and Welbeck launched from the flanks together with Das Ozil ..

  • Cheers HT.. Hmm I am sure it’s just beginning of the comments which already began in the last post. I rate and want Ox to do well but this one might be a step to far for him at this stage. If we are talking midfielders rather than hard working winger forwards then as an alternative to Welbeck it would be a combination of the midfielders with the highest work rate and defensive nous as well as efficiency in possession – Le Coq, Elneny and Ramsey for me. Ox needs to work on these areas in less challenging games.

    At the top: I would also like Walcott to start like he did against Bayern. Why do you go with Giroud over Walcott or Welbeck up top HT? Current form suggests Walcott is getting back to where he should be with his sharpness and with Welbeck I like the combo of pace and hold up play that he offers.

  • Think of it in these terms 17HT–
    It’s a rarity that there is any outright call for pessimism– no matter against whom we play.
    Even Bayern– it was thought AFC could play with arguably the team that was performing then– as well as Barca is now.

    Barca is a beast.
    But as a fan? I’ll take my chances with Le Prof and his Merry Band.
    AFC regularly plays to the level of their competition.
    I’ll take that kind of effort today.


  • I’m not particularly pessimistic, JW, though perhaps a bit negative re: tactics…

    FMJ, see my comment bottom of last post for the Ollie vs Theo question… though of course I’m happy to restate my main idea… 😀

    The small bit I’ve watched Barca recently they are playing a lot like we do these days. It’s true they will push forward with the FBs but Busquets (like Coquelin…) generally stays deep and covers for them, same as the CBs. They don’t get crazy out of shape as they seem well aware that their CBs (except Vermaelen, who I doubt will play) aren’t the quickest. Of course–just as we prefer to do– they use their superior ball skills to build from the back and play the ball forward. Without Xavi, however, they do far less of the long ball over the top, hence the need to keep the DM and CBs back. It’s no real issue when you’ve got guys like Rakatic, Iniesta, Suarez, Messi and Neymar who all can turn and run with it…Alves is maybe a little slower and older these days, but Jordi Alba isn’t…

    We’re in the same boat, but we just don’t have players working together the way that Coq and Santi can. Those two, at their best (like in the home win vs. ManU) were poking the ball to one another in sublime fashion. They were unafraid to play really close together which allowed more space for guys like Ozil and Alexis to drop deeper and either run the ball or pass it over or through them. Ramsey, Elneny and the Ox, (and Jack, if he gets fit) I think, want more space as their games are predicated on more pace and power (“thrust,” is maybe the word TA prefers..) as well as more touches to bring the ball under control. It’s fine in most situations but against a team unafraid to press in combos (like we did with Coq and Santi…) it becomes very high risk. Balls over the top to the big target (with the superior hold up skills…) seems a better tactic…se llama “el futbol ingles.”

    This is a 180 minute match-up and the winner can advance with the right pair of draws. I would be ecstatic if we could keep a clean sheet tonight even if we only booted it forward… It’s what we did vs Bayern and (more recently) what Hull did with us. If we can keep that clean sheet for an hour I’ve got nothing against bringing on Theo or DW to try and give us a lead, as, after all, no matter what, we’ll need a goal at some point if we hope to get through, unless (of course) we play 2 hours of nil-nil and it goes to pens, which, with Cech between the posts, I’d take right now…

    So, I’m reasonably optimistic that we can do it… And not overly worried if it appears a bit negative… 😀

  • Ah thanks HT ok yes I see the tactic you think will predominate in this one and given that Ollie was in the re-match press conference and having just read Wengers comments including a 0-0 would be a good result – good chances you’d be right to pick Giroud and see it as a route one and knock down to Ozil and our skilful and pacey Alexis and Ox. I like this approach too. It could work. I go with Giroud but with Welbeck a real option up top – we didn’t have in Munich – offering pace as well as being able to do that knock down and hold up play Ollie does.

  • Nice intro, 17. 🙂

    Tonight we have the easiest game ever. If we get something out of the game, great. If we don’t…well, we play against the best team in the world and the most prolific trident I have ever seen.

    Our team is pretty much the same as the one that got a 2:0 victory at the Etihad in 2015. Mesut is there for Santi and Cech for Ospina so we should be stronger than we were on that lovely afternoon against City.

    I am surprised with an inclusion of The Ox given how erratic he has been in Champions League. He has looked better lately and has quality to beat any full-back in the world but his consistent final product is still missing.

    I expect Theo and Danny at some point of the game as both of them can put Barcelona defenders on the back foot. Danny also adds aerial threat, something we have tonight thanks to Per and Ollie.


  • The difference is, FMJ, that Ollie needs less chances to score, whereas Danny just scores one in five games..and we will not get too many chances tonight.

  • Oh, yes, Ollie’s knock downs. He has assisted for Mesut against B’mouth and for Theo against Leicester. He almost did the same for Ox against Hull. Our new routine?

  • Yeah, it all seemed quite obvious to me, given the previous matches… No surprises with the Barca line-up either…

    Of course, folks like to outguess the manager and many get (extremely…) attached to their ideas which gives them a nice hypothesis (untested, of course) if things don’t quite work out…

    Anyhow, here’s to a great match!

    Are we gonna keep it here or try a live-blog type of thing?…

  • 17HT, love your post, great line; “This one has to be seen as the ultimate test as well as a fantastic opportunity”, agree 100%. Speaking with fellow gooners at work today I can’t believe how worried they are about getting smashed by Suraz, Messi & Neymar, isn’t this why we all watch football to see your team take on the best. Yes Barca are a great team but I feel really confident in the good guys getting a result. I’m going 2:1.
    By the way, team news in and 17HT is spot on. Let’s enjoy the game.

  • Yep, thanks TA and on balance I agree.. Giroud is more likely at this stage to effect the game by assisting or scoring. That stat though might be a bit harsh on Danny, I don’t think there is that much of a difference in their finishing they can both miss a hatful on their day. Danny hasn’t established himself properly yet for various reasons and this skews the stats.

  • FMJ, agreed re Danny. It is still early and he might improve but tonight is not the game to risk missing too many chances and with Ollie netting in both games against Bayern…

    I must say I feel less good about the game now with this line up but Wenger knows a lot more about football and Arsenal than I and let’s see what will happen. The Ox rather than Theo, Welbeck on Campbell is a big gamble by Wenger but let’s hope he can, for once, focus on being in the game all the time rather than dipping in and out.

    One thing I am sure off is that Rambo will show Seventeenho and co why we will not be missing Cazorla too much tonight. The finest b2b in the country in my opinion and his movement and engine will be crucial tonight.

    Enjoy the game and catch you guys later, as I will have to watch this one in the local pub. COYG! 🙂

  • Hey TA… I prolly missed ya…

    I like Rambo too and hope he can do his bit… If he does (or Ozil, it appears…) the tapping up in the press will be worse than ever. Should Arsenal take the 100 million or keep the player? My hands can barely type anticipating all the (hand) wringing ahead… 😀 😦

    FMJ, I gotta say, that DW moment vs Leicester and the personality shown in post match interviews shows a LOT of promise for dat guy… We’ll have to see it over time, of course. I like Ollie and he’s never bitten anybody, not once, not twice, not three times, so I’ll take him as my CF any day…

    Players are coming out onto the pitch… Anthem, hand shakes…

    Play ball, as they say…

  • Nacho gets the first yellow…in the 6th minute… Ref seems to favor the continental style… 😦

    Everybody’s watching, I figure, so no need for commentary, I assume…

  • Congrats on your selection 17ht or should I call you Arsene.

    Two quickies

    1. Ref has got something red in his right hand really annoying

    2. If Nicky Bendtner can score against them, anyone can

  • Wow… Just barely got out of the half… Biter-boy should’ve done better… Can’t switch off or they’ll make us pay, I fear… Still, 1 down, 3 (halves) to go… (And, technically, we’d still have 30 mins of ET to play…)

    For a bit in the late aughts the reffing got a bit more English…Not so any longer, I fear…

    Ox will not want to see the replay with the sitting goal-keeper and the sitting ball… Is that why they call it a sitter?… Heavy touch led to the turned ankle, too… He got to a late lofted ball nicely at the other end, however… Sub at the break?…

  • The lads have done really well . The only time Barca look dangerous is when we attack in force. Catch 22 huh

    Other than the obvious I think the Ox has had a decent half. Not surprised if he is 100 per cent though. Time for

  • Spot on with your line up, 17Highburyterrace. Feel we started well and tapered off as things wore on. Alexis is not his energetic self and I would give him another 20mins and bring on Welbeck.

  • There you go…Ox off, Theo on… Oftentimes those ankles really are OK after a few minutes…

    Cech saved nicely from Neymar after Kos (maybe) played him onside…

    Alexis looks fine to me…If Ox hadn’t been where he was the sitter would’ve fallen to Alexis and he would not have missed…

  • Listening to the radio, BBC5Live…

    Alan Green sounds like he’s urging on the Spaniards.

    Meanwhile the Turkish referee seems desperate to flash a red card at an Arsenal player…
    Nothing changes there then….

    If Arsenal finish the 180 minutes not suffering a dismissal I’ll be amazed…

  • Same shit different year! How can u play mertisacker the worst defender in the premier league against the best front 3 players in the world and expect to win? Play Giroud who wenger believes is world class? lol it is because we dont have a world class striker that we miss the chances we have tonight and its come back to haunt us again. Us Gooners have been crying out for a proper world class striker for years and tonights games top strikers was the difference. Alexis looked the only player capable. Ozil is scared to shoot and Giroud simply can’t! But nothing will change and wenger will keep playing these second rate players untill our board grows a pair and gets rid of the problem WENGER!

  • A good effort and with a little bit of luck we might have got something. That said with a little luck .Barca could have had 5. At the end of the day they did there best, but Barca are a class apart I am afraid.

  • Brian, Thanks for the calm and well measured response… What do they say, if we lose my brian will literally explode?… Surely you should send the board your CV, as you’ve hit all the salient points… They’re located at #1 Le Grove… Postal Code N5 L0L… be sure to cc Stan Kroenke at 10101 Head, Big Ass Cattle Ranch, Texas, USA 96969… Also, please be sure (NOT) to celebrate winning the league and/or FA Cup over there (or in other such spots…)instead of here… Cheers-in-advance…

    Retsub, I think you’ve got it… We had a few chances but fluffed them…and then maybe lost a little discipline hoping for better than the nil-nil… Human nature, it seems to me…

  • Very good first half by the whole team bar the last few minutes when we lost our discipline. Ox should have scored and that is the difference in a game like this: that chance was too big too miss but we did miss it. Second half we lacked that initial discipline and it was only a matter of time before either side would score and they looked the more likely to do it. Koz should have been more streetwise before the first was scored and Flamini….. yeah that can happen but that was very costly Matthieu….

    We are not miles away from giving a team like Barca a proper game but the second half tactics were poor and one or two players showed their level tonight.

    Ozil, Rambo, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Cech, Coquelin were all brilliant. Shame our attackers were not sharp enough.

  • TA, will you be writing a match report?… If so, I look forward to it… I see some positives…The boys fought very hard, IMO… Some of the combos were just off, I thought and chances maybe fell to the wrong guys… The judgement on who played well is more subjective. My bet is that the Barca (media) tapping up of guys like Ozil and Rambo cools while that sort of business with Bellerin increases…

    I just watched the few minutes before the first goal and we were definitely losing some positional discipline… Le Coq got well forward once and then neither he nor Rambo rotated back on the decisive play. I wonder if that’s why AW hooked him for Flamini?… The crowd palpably wanting that goal (very disappointed, for example, when Coq passed backwards…) may also have played a role… Unfortunately the sub probably contributed to the pen and 2nd goal as Coq might’ve been quicker when BFG (foolishly) played the ball softly rather than booting it away…

    If you don’t want to write a match report, no worries. I can at least scout those Manc teams tomorrow and Thursday… One is actually still (maybe) in the title hunt and the other is our next opponent…

  • Totaal, Alan Green is a Liverpool fan, and just like all the other ‘Proffessional Scousers’ working in the media, he has never got over or forgotten or forgiven Arsenal for Anfield 1989…

    My antipathy towards Tottenham is in my DNA.
    But after the Spuds, the team I have the least regard for is Liverpool.
    It may have something to do with the feeling of entitlement, anybody connected to that club or who supports them, seems to have…

  • Guys,

    To get rid of the bad mood among us, let’s discuss on how are we going to slaughter LVG. And his team.

    Should we whack his him 5-0 or after 3-0 sit back and relax? Or should we give them the perfect nightmare to make us fans feel like there is a tomorrow?


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