View From The Sphere

FIVE things Arsenal must do to stand a chance against Barcelona


From Footballfancast

Written by Harry Cloke

Arsenal’s inability to top an easy Champions League group has well and truly come back to bite them where it hurts. The Gunners were drawn with Barcelona and the first leg will take place in London on February 15th.

Arsenal will enter the fray with some degree of trepidation. When they visited the Nou Camp last season, they left with a 4-1 spanking. Their previous meeting, in the 2006 Champions League final also led to tragedy for the Gunners. Whilst Barcelona still seem to be on top of the world, the Gunners have blown hot and cold this season. Arsenal have an unwelcome reputation for faultering against the bigger teams and who is bigger than Barcelona?

So Arsenal head into the knockout stages as an underdog, but let’s not rule them out completely. This Barcelona team is not infallible. As Arsenal’s captain Cesc Fabregas recently noted:

“Barcelona are not unbeatable. If they were invincible, they would win the Champions League every year.”

If Arsenal are to have a chance they will have to cross their fingers and do the following five things.

First things first: stop Messi. It was Messi who took Arsenal apart last season. He scored all four goals in Barca’s 4-1 victory over the Gunners at the Nou Camp. Barcelona are by no means a one man team, but he is certainly their best player and arguably the best player in the world. Of course, it’s wrong to wish injury upon another player, yet, surely the only way Arsenal can neutralise Messi completely is by his never being fit to turn up.

More important still – the Gunners must not try to out-football Barcelona. Arsenal are a great passing side, but Barcelona are the world’s best. With this in mind, Arsenal must show that there are two sides to their game. When Barcelona are in possession, Arsenal have to stay close to their man, apply constant pressure and try to break up the flow of Barca’s game. Snap into tackles, get in their players faces, wind them up and do whatever it takes to break up play. Arsenal could really use a Viera figure, but given that Wenger is likely to be frugal in the January transfer window, will have to make do with what they’ve got.

An obvious, but important point – Arsenal have to be clinical. In Chamakh they have a striker who always looks likely to score when given a chance, but the Gunners will probably be hoping that Robin Van Persie is fully match fit when the two teams meet and that he is firing on all cylinders.

A lot may depend on Cesc Fabregas. He is Arsenal’s best player and has a history with Barcelona that is sure to mean he will give it his everything in the hope of impressing. Hopefully he will have fully recovered from his niggling hamstring problem by February and be able to show Barcelona stalwarts Iniesta and Xavi that he can compete against the best team in Europe. Arsenal must try to give Fabregas as much time and space on the ball as possible, as he can make things happen.

Finally, Arsenal should make good use of their underdog status. A number of times over the last couple of years Arsenal have travelled across the country to face a team languishing towards the bottom of the Premier League table expecting to walk all over them, but in found instead a tough, competitive team who refuses to let the Gunners control the flow of the game. Barcelona will waltz into the first leg of the game at the Emirates expecting a victory, can Arsenal catch them unawares?

If you like what you read and want to discuss football with Harry, you can follow him on Twitter @ThePerfectPass

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