Barcelona-Arsenal, Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg. Match Preview. 20:45 at the Camp Nou, Midnight on the Ramblas

And it only gets darker before the dawn…If there is one.
Arsenal travel to the Camp Nou trailing the defending champions 2-nil after the first leg.  Reversing the scoreline would send the match to extra time.  Three Arsenal goals would be needed to win over 90 minutes, in which case we wouldn’t even need a clean sheet.  It is possible–mathematically–for Arsenal to advance tonight in Barcelona.

Is it possible on the football pitch?  I seriously doubt it, but, as Gooners know, when Arsenal play, anything is possible.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been a good thing as of late.

What can we say about the opposition beyond what we saw three weeks ago?  I guess they’ll have Arda Turan back from suspension even if Gerard Pique has to serve one. They’ve given up a couple of goals in intervening games, one each at Rayo Vallecano and one on their home pitch vs Sevilla.  Unfortunately they’ve also scored 17 goals themselves. Gulp.

I thought we played quite well in the first leg and we actually had chances to go ahead through Aaron Ramsey and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain. Rambo’s shot was scuffed but the Ox missed a real sitter in Barca’s penalty box. Later the Ox damaged knee ligaments chasing a heavy touch on the counter. Barca also failed to take their chances in the first half and had a couple saved by Petr Cech.

In the second period Barcelona were more clinical.  Absorbing our pressure, they always looked dangerous on the counter, and, finally, in the 71st minute, they made us pay, Leo Messi finishing a fine move out of our half.  They doubled the lead in the 83rd when Per Mertesacker cushioned down a high ball to Mathieu Flamini but Messi snuck in ahead of the Corsican who kicked only leg.  The Argentinian beat Cech from the penalty spot.

Overall, it wasn’t our worst match and only loss of focus in critical moments let us down.  That’s what football is all about, however, and now it’s a mountain to climb.

Additionally, since the match, we’ve faltered even more.  League losses at Manchester United and at home vs Swansea (and a late draw at Tottenham) now see us 11 points off league leaders Leicester City, albeit with a game in hand.  We have that extra game because we won a replay in the FA cup at Hull City only to lose in the next round at home vs Watford in our most recent outing.  In addition to the Ox, we’ve also lost Ramsey and Cech to injury.  Laurent Koscielny missed four matches after that first leg but should be available tonight.

Between the injuries and the results it all makes for another spiraling descent into end-of-season Arsenal crisis, made worse by the fact that there are none of the usual mechanisms for “resolving” such troubles at our club–i.e., firing the manager.  Not a peep has been uttered at ownership or board level and Arsene Wenger remains defiant amid fan protests, banners demanding (or asking politely for) his ouster and what he describes as farcical drama surrounding each match.  As such, needing to win by 2 clear goals against a team that hasn’t lost since October should be run-of-the-mill pressure for the embattled manager.  In addition, there’s the small matter of a lunchtime kickoff at Everton in league play coming on Saturday.  Should he be thinking about that one?

Probably not, especially as much of Wenger’s stewardship of the club has been focused on Europe.  Revenues from the new stadium, now in its tenth season of use, have allowed us to finish consistently in the Champions League places.  If only we could truly compete in the tournament.  We made heroic efforts this season to get out of our group but this would be six years in a row leaving the tournament in the first elimination round.  I share Wenger’s view that we have to give it a go and use our best personnel.  Our depleted team–even if they can’t win against Barcelona–could probably use the pitch time learning how to play with one another ahead of our final nine league matches.

Who starts?  The team, I think, just about picks itself except perhaps up front where there’s some discussion about tactical choices and form players.  It should help using our Spanish fullbacks, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, and having Laurent Koscielny available again.  Danny Welbeck was our most recent scorer (very late vs Watford) and he looked effective starting at Spurs while both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott sat.  Those two both scored a brace in the only win (at Hull City) we’ve had in our past seven matches, however.  I can’t see Wenger sitting either Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil, although some might argue that we should keep Ozil (and Bellerin) back in London so that Barcelona recruiters can’t have access to them.  Could Joel Campbell also play?  In midfield, where the injuries probably cut the deepest, Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin likely start unless Wenger wants to rest one or the other in favor of Flamini or Calum Chambers.

Here’s my best guess:

Subs: Macey, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Iwobi, Campbell, Giroud

Beyond blind hope and the idea that Barca might play with an eye to preserving their lead, I cannot see a lot on offer tonight.  Getting out with no new injuries and some improved combination play, especially by guys like Eleneny and Coquelin (working with Alexis and Ozil and the fullbacks) against Barca’s highly skilled and very quick players would be my top priorities.  In fact, I’d prioritize the performance above the result given that we’ll need another one so soon again up at Everton.  My view, however, is just that.  What do others say?

This team could use a lift and going to one of the great venues and playing one of the great teams certainly offers just such an opportunity.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace



47 thoughts on “Barcelona-Arsenal, Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg. Match Preview. 20:45 at the Camp Nou, Midnight on the Ramblas

  • Interesting post 17tino…

    Your line up looks the way that AW might go.
    For me it would be Campbell, Welbeck and Alexis up front.
    Bringing on Giroud and Walcott if we go ‘long’ in the unlikely event that we have a chance of progressing…

    Being a bit of a cynic, I suspect that if Arsenal was in that position, that the referee would quickly rebalance things by reducing our team to 10 players. 😐

  • Hi Kev, Thanks for the comment…My motivation to keep doing the previews is hanging by a thread as thin as the hair on the head of many Gooners preferred manager (Steve Bould)…

    The way the team has been performing is one element, the 2nd, of course, being the reaction of the support…

    Today is Theo’s birthday and here’s an article that sums up why I believe he could be very valuable to us in this match today and in the future. Giroud comes in for some stick for not being a world class striker, but at least a few people (notably TA) around here defend him. On his birthday and on this rare occasion when a very pacey group of players will be thinking about defending first and foremost, I see him as quite useful.

    By contrast, I like Joel Campbell and he’s surprised me a lot. I think, however, that he’s judged by a different yardstick (perhaps because his salary is less that 1/4 that of Theo) … Obviously he appears to work harder and is more often on or near the ball. To me, however, he requires a lot of space in which to do his stuff and compromises spaces that could be used by guys like Ozil and Alexis. Bellerin (who is nothing short of spectacular going forward…) got those two assists with Ramsey in (actually abandoning, mostly) that spot on the left. If DW, Theo and Alexis used that spot with a similar flexibility we might be able to keep Barca (and other teams) on their heels just a bit…

    My bigger idea is that we don’t have to win today, only avoid another humiliation… Would I take nil-nil and a good training outing (i.e., no injuries)?… You betcha (as they say somewhere over here)…

  • Also, agreed about the reffing… It’s a shame that Gabriel has gone all “English” on us given that he’s got that superior recovery speed to the BFG (and may be fitter than Kos)… Frankly I’m hopeful for a “sensitive,” more continental style ref today given our match on Saturday. Over the past decade I’m really struck by how the CL style has swung back that direction after being far more lenient in those several years where ManU and Chavs made finals and won…

  • 17tino, don’t lose your mojo buddy, your previews are always food for thought and well presented…

    Quickly, on the Giroud subject, I think he suffers a bit of an unfair comparison because he has followed 3 such top top quality strikers in Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie…

    Not his fault…

  • Excellent preview, 17.

    I neither expect anything against Barca nor hold our defeat against the gaffer & players. They are the best team in the world, football looks like CM 4 when they play it.

    I would prefer us keeping our best players out of this game as Everton match is the greatest one. If we don’t win it, our season is over and 4th place trophy is all that will be left to play for. Idiots from FA who scheduled that match less than 72 hours after our visit to Barcelona are obviously brain-damaged.

    To sum it up: I can live with conceding seven to Suarez, Messi and Neymar if that means Lukaku et al will score none on Saturday; I can live with us failing to score at Nou Camp for the first time if that means any of DW, TW, OG and Alexis will get us three points at Goodison Park.

    Of course, there is a caveat: when we got ourselves an honourable exit at Munich in 2013, we went on to a successful streak of matches without a single defeat to get the 4th place trophy. It was mostly about Mourinho-ing victories but it was result that mattered.

    That should be our approach until the end. Nine ugly league victories.

  • Ah ha, Admir, now I understand…Too much video game football… 😀

    Back in the real world this group needs a bit of confidence. We’re too thin (too many injuries) to rest very many good players though I’m only half joking about leaving Ozil and Bellerin back in London (the two players who might improve Barca). They might also want Koscielny who maybe they thought they were buying when we sold them Vermaelen…

    What was your take on that two hours (actually 3.5 hours) of some not very video game football yesterday? In the end,your hero (Simeone) got his boys past the Dutch electronics team so maybe that’s all that matters…

    We (also) might not score but I hope we look a little bit crafty here and there and at least keep the pitch well spaced and don’t concede needlessly. Everton on Saturday should feel a bit less zippy by comparison (and, as I think you noted, they don’t foul too much…) so we have to hope that the extra match and zero recovery time work to our advantage…

    Cheers a-kev and spot on re: Giroud… Our next manager (after Bould?…) Thierry Henry needs to bear some responsibility on the “world class striker” bit. That’s what he called out Giroud for failing to be and what he’s been unable to teach Theo (and Danny and JC and Ollie himself) how to become… There’s a lot of cross-over in punditry and management, but they seem like different beasts…

  • Well poised post, HT. No capitulation, no wild dreams.

    100% with your line up. Anybody who plays as the front man against Barca is never going to be a very busy man. That suits Walcott’s playing personality perfectly, while his pace and off the shoulder runs wouldn’t suit the Barca back line.

    Ozil is not very effective when the opponent has the ball, and as such, he should be our 2nd man floating in the forward areas.

    Welbz and Alxis are hard workers who can tuck in behind effectively, yet primed with their pace to spring blistering counters.

    We have two options we can use against Barca. Defend deep and narrow and go on the counter. The above line up is perfect for such a strategy. Or we employ gen-gen pressing as an alternative strategy, Ozil, Walcott and Giroud are not intense pressers. In such a system, only one of them would be accommodated and that one, imo, should be Ozil but pushed wide left and Nacho made to play consevatevly.

    Nothing wrong at all in a plan to high press Barca, but naive to think that it would put one on the front foot. Barca would still dominate possession, would still compress the opposition team. Therefore now that Walcott is out, we should introduce a good presser who is also a good defender. Flamini and a 4:3:3 formation.


    The odds are 1:12 that we will qualify. Will that solitary figure show up tonight? Man is born to dream. But to be candid, once it is not a spanking, I will sleep easy.

  • @17 – hey, if there wasn’t for video-games, I’d forget how winning the league with Arsenal looks like. 😛 CM4 was actually a really funny game where Jermaine Pennant as a right forward in 4-2-4 could get you 20+20, Henry and Carew would combine around 90 goals and Reyes would 15-20 more. 😀

    Back to reality. Ouch. It hurts. 😦

    Simeone got his boys beyond Round of 16. The last time Arsene did it with our boys, Nicklas Bendtner scored a hat-trick and Falcao scored none. If you have a problem with the way Simeone did it last night, it’s OK but let’s not forget that we hadn’t exactly mesmerized the neutrals on our way to CL Final 2006. 🙂 Kudos to Cocu for getting close to knock another big team out of competition and absolute hate for his hair-style. I just had to bring that one up. He looks like he cut skunk’s tail and put it on his head to cover a sudden loss of hair.

    Everton play a very clean football in terms of fouls and our old pal Barry got a red card against Chavs so he won’t be there. I expect the only Bosnian player I’d like to see at Arsenal to get a special task to tame Ozil on Saturday.

    Lukaku could end our title dreams. I hope Ospina will block him like he did last season at our soil. Gabby also played a huge part in our victory over them in the reverse fixture but I doubt he’ll start again.

    As you might have noticed, I think only about the league game. Tonight – no injuries, no pressure, no stress.

  • Hi HT, I mistimed my comment on the last post, but I’m glad that you managed to get a preview out.
    You have done well to keep it to the practical level, and not let the gloom/disappointment seep in.
    Warning! An unufortunate phrase coming up … but it is almost a ‘no win’ situation, on as many levels as you care to take it … 😦

    That said, rather than go as far as PE above, with regards exposing our entire defensive midfield to injury, I would offer a plan B.
    Put Bellerin alongside Coquelin as DM’s, and thus providing the 2nd tackler I’ve been calling for.
    If we play Ozil for an hour, and then swap in Elneny. We should be able to leave Welbeck and Alexis quite high up, playing on their back line?

    It is a thought, if unlikely.

    If we could do what we did to Bayern, they may just get jittery with 10 minutes to go?

    Otherwise, anything less than being beaten by 2 goals and a good team effort will do for me. The next game at the weekend is where our destiny lies ….


  • Ospina-Bellerin, Kos, Gabs, Nacho-Flamini, Mo-Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis-Welbeck.

    Good choice.

  • Interesting line-up for me but it makes a certain sense… I guess anybody sitting could be justified as “rested” for the bigger game… The three rested attackers have to think about playing an hour plus if (the most gigantic if, ever…) we could force extra time…

    Barca line-up is boring by comparison…

    Coquelin sitting is maybe justified because we need to win this match by two goals rather than just the one as we do at Everton… 😀 JK’s call for the Flamster at #9 is on… 😀

    Incredible occasion for the likes of Elneny and Iwobi, although Ospina, with a good showing, could also make a mark for his future in the Spanish speaking world…Barca are playing their cup keeper, too…

    Nice interview with Arsenal’s least articulate traveling supporter (only 16, so we’ll give him a pass…) “We need to move on; he’s not getting across to the team as well as we hoped. I don’t want him out but he needs to get across to the team a bit more…” So, it’s the players fault but you can’t get rid of them or something?… I don’t have to mention whom we’re speaking about, do I?…

    Anyhow, enjoy the match…

  • Almost made it 20 mins… Probably were gonna need 3 goals anyhow… 😀 😦

  • Didn’t I say the same thing, Admir, re: Barca keepers?…

    In other news, Bayern now need three goals to advance past Juve…

  • Iwobi defending well…on himself… 😀

    Welbeck did likewise very early on and won a corner so why not?…

  • Nice 1-2 between DW and Iwobi…Masch just got a toe in, but wrongly called out for a Barca throw…

  • Flams = our latest MF out with muscle troubles… If he were a horse…

    Since he isn’t he should be OK just about at the same time as Rambo/Jack/Santi, i.e., in time for the Euros…

  • Half-time… Only one goal, only one injury… I fear the latter is the bigger problem…

  • Hey Seventeenho 🙂

    At least we scored and by the sounds of it we have had more than a few chances but failed to take them. Shame our defence let us down so early on. Let’s try and get a draw which would be good for morale.

  • Wow… World class FK from Alexis… World class double save from Ter Stegen… Good tries from Giroud and Ozil?…

    Set piece defending tonight not so strong but Barca big fellas have spared us…

  • It’s already good for morale, IMO…

    Very good that Elneny kept shooting and got his reward, I think…

    Many others showed some good quality tonight but just not quite enough to edge us back into the tie…

    Messi makes it 3-1 which seems about right…

    Frankly, the boys shouldn’t hang their heads… Barca are a class above…Now we just need to be a class above in our remaining matches AND overcome whatever is thrown at us…

    Sort of like what Bayern have done in the other match…

    Unfortunately, with our injuries, Flams being the latest, we’re very up against it…

  • So…. Would it have been GUARDIOLA OUT if they hadn’t pulled off the comeback?…

    😀 😦

  • I’m very happy with our performance tonight (minus result, defensive errors and finishing but none of it is Wenger’s fault). Elneny scored a great goal, Ospina made a few great saves.

    If we get our shooting boots on against Everton, probably the only team in the league that has had less luck this season than ours, we might return in the title race.

    @17 – Juve had absolute sitter to make it 3:0 in the injury-time of the first half. Then again, Bayern could have killed the tie in the first leg when they were two goals up. Pogba is so good that UEFA should ban him from making a move to this Barcelona.

  • Couldn’t resist the sarcasm there, Admir… 😦

    If Wenger is shite AND he cannot be fired (his fault for picking his owner, conning the board, etc., etc.) then why do you (and others…) stick with his club? Seems to me like there are plenty of others more worthy of your support.

    Over here, when the “regular season” is over, punters get behind–or at least try and enjoy a team (or two) who still are “in it.” (For “the playoffs.”) City and Atleti seem like good underdog candidates… Barca if you need a winner…

    I’ll tell you why I’m quitting… Because Arsenal supporters don’t deserve the success which might (or might not…) come their way…

  • HT you will find this outlook is commonplace and rooted in wider scoiety now and well embedded in football too. I think come out and demonstrate the resignation of our coach before the season ends is disrespectful full stop. Win or lose, you support the team and then comment when at the end of the season. Speculation, tittle tattle, rumours it’s what drives interest and what the media puts out, a vicious cycle of instant reaction, expectation, consumerism. Bergkampesque is a refuge for the most part from fans that buy into all that, I appreciate the depth and the insight that many people commenting on here have. Some I have read have that too but still can’t see their blind spot when it comes to this issue. Wait till the end of the season is Arsene Wenger’s consistent response to such b-llsh-t. Sorry to have to say this.

  • I don’t know where was sarcasm in my post. I mean what I’ve said. We gave a good performance against the best team out there and if it wasn’t for our players’ mistakes in front of our and their goal, we would have given them a fine run for their money. That’s something I can live with. Losing against Barcelona is not what was shameful this season.

    I understand that you would like to have a privilege to judge who may or may not support Arsenal but that’s not going to happen. 🙂

  • FMJ14, my post was a response to HT’s comment but maybe it can be a response to yours post as well. I can’t wait for May to come just to see what sort of excuse for not suggesting a new manager should replace Wenger will be made up.

  • It sounded like we had a good performance tonight from the lads. Mentally they did well, although that has to go up a level as well as the persistent tendency to lose the ball in our own half in games. If that habit can be cut out it would help a fair bit. When I say go up a level mentally their is something that even if we had kept it tighter as a team and in defence, the belief that we can beat Barca, equivalent to Barca’s belief that they are on another level to any team right now, is not there. Wow Suarez’s goal was incredible he scored that with his shin, intentionally.. For us at least two new signings will be needed. Strong players physically and who are leaders & winners mentally.

  • I think the ‘none of it is Wenger’s fault’ was the bit that sounded sarcastic there Admir.. But maybe you meant it on this occasion as it was Barca? That is perfectly possible so fair enough. Your general comments about new managers and speculation about who should come in though is a bit boring and doesn’t help the team right now – fellow fans included in the word ‘team’. We should discuss these things at the end of the season no?

  • Only seen a few snippets on Arsenalist, but I have to say that Elneny scored a fine goal.

    I hope that that strike is an indication of what Mo has to bring to the party.

    Now for Goodison and a change of fortune….

  • Guys,

    Even the players said that as it was barca we can take pride and they gave their all.

    I do not think that is correct thinking. Yes, they gave their all, and yes, they scored 1. But sonehow their thinking after the game is wrong. They should have thought that ok, we cannot beat them now, but we can work on beating them the next time.

    Not that if we have won i would have said it any differently.

    We must give 1000% every game, and not only against struggling teams. As i had said somany times here, we have to think like 11 Alexis, not just 1.

    And 17ht, that’s so unlike you for whacking Wenger.


  • Admir, if that wasn’t sarcasm, then the misinterpretation is all mine… Sorry… You’ve had priors though, haven’t you?…

    JK, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, however…or perhaps you’re not recognizing my sarcasm in response to what I thought was Admir’s…

    Anyhow, I’ve written more (about the nature of fan-dom, support, my own personal experience, etc.) but I’ll hold off and see if I like it tomorrow…

    I enjoyed the match and think we may have a player in Elneny… His goal (I think) is huge for the run-in… Alexis on the right (TA’s suggestion recently, I believe) also looked good. Iwobi did well too… Our forwards just aren’t quite (more sarcasm…) at the level of theirs, I fear… Both keepers did well…and Gabriel had a (mostly) redemptive experience…

    Let’s be realistic. That Barca team is fully mature, fully fit and in excellent form, they didn’t really break a sweat due to the first leg and, like Admir says, small player errors by our guys.

    By contrast, Arsenal are playing youth (Iwobi, Bellerin) or or the aged (Flamini) or the newly acquired and/or just settling in at a good level (Gabriel, Elneny, Coquelin, Ospina) or just back from injury (Koscielny, Welbeck). Only Ozil and Alexis are big stars and they’re both cast-offs from Barca or the other big Spanish club… Nacho, Giroud and Theo are all probably good enough to make their national teams but probably not as starters. Who did I miss?…

    I know, I missed all the injured fellas… who might be pretty strong players who could have helped…as it was, I think it was a positive step. Everton looms hugely, not least because then there’s nothing but the international break…

  • I know that TA,

    Somehow if the lads’ form drops even further the dark clouds forming over the Gooner world will get thicker.

    Well, how to give the lads an escape from all the negativity?

    For me, i will not remove Wenger. Definitely a no no for the stability of the club. We need new tactics, new player psychiatrist, and more of the closed door interaction between the team.


  • 17ht, I guess what I saw is the sarcarsm.. oh well.. Admir be more positive mate.

    We only have Ozil and Alexis who deserve better. The rest are just players who currently are out of form or have not been there yet.

    Iwobi is not someone who creates something from nothing. Ok, he holds the ball well, but we need a finisher.

    Surely we can get one from the youth team for the time being when the rest of the strikers are on strike?


  • Sometimes am smart enough to lay it out simply. The match was a purist delight. Barca’s, as always, exquisite finishing was the difference. Though beaten I sang a song of victory and capped it up with a beautiful night sleep.

  • Ah.. I know why we lost 3 goals.. after watching the highlights.

    Our weakness is both in attack and defense.
    Look at how many chances went just off.
    Look at the number of times we ventured too far up and we got pegged back by their strikers.
    Its not that we do not have that quality.
    We have Theo, which can be like the biter.
    We have Welbeck, which can score goals and create chances.
    We have Alexis, and we went really close from his freekick.

    What we do not have is the mentality that we can do it.

  • PE 🙂

    That is a fine, fine comment, very much in the spirit of Bergkampesque. If you don’t mind I will use it as our new post this morning.

  • TA, am flattered that you considered if Bergkampesque. Am appreciating more and more what the Bergkampesque philosophy is all about. But we mortals must always err. To err is human, to forgive is Bergkampesque. Please use it as you deem fit.

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