Here they go again, Arsenal will tonight tackle the best team in the world in the first leg of their Champions League Last 16 tie against Spanish champions, Barcelona. The Gunners are out for revenge after last year-s 6-3 aggregate loss, but they won’t achieve it, and here’s why…
Despite having easily one of the least difficult groups in the group stage, Arsenal some how conspired to finish 2nd in their group, which contained European power-houses Shakhtar Donetsk, SC Braga and FK Partizan. Although the Gunners scored a very good number of goals (18, 3 per game), their defence let them down; Arsenal kept only 1 clean sheet in 6 games, against opposition, that by Champions League standards are far from outstanding.
Barca are considered the best team in Europe at the moment and, having put 6 past Arsenal last season in 2 games, their forwards are likely to punish Arsenal lapses at the back very heavily. The Barca attack will no doubt also be encouraged by Arsenal’s catastrophic defensive collapse in their recent 4-4 draw at Newcastle.
The Barcelona midfield includes one of the greatest combinations of modern football, the lethal axis of Andres Iniesta and Xavi. The two little men in the middle have such craft and vision, they represent perfectly the basis on which Barca have become the best team in the world – short passing and constant movement. The ‘Liverpool Groove’ of pass and move reaches its zenith with these two creating and scheming from the centre of the park.
When you add to the mix the rarely heralded defensive quality of Sergio Busquets, who marked Sneijder out of the World Cup Final, Pedro, who has banged in 19 goals this season, and the Argentine national captain Mascherano, who may well only make the bench, Arsenal are going to have a real task on their hands to constrain Barca’s midfield.
The best player in the world. The little Argentine genius is almost unstoppable, and having banged 4 past the Gunners in the second leg of their match-up last season, Messi will no doubt have the same in mind tonight. Having scored a mind-alteringly brilliant 40 goals in 34 games already this season, including 6 in 6 in the Champions League, Messi will be by far the hottest property on display this evening and his mazy runs and exquisite control will almost certainly pose big problems for Koscielny, Djourou and co.
To put it simply, Barcelona’s first team has a better player in almost every single position. Even Arsenal’s best players don’t match-up, Fabregas is in the shadow of Xavi and Iniesta for Spain and Van Persie comes nowhere near matching Messi or Villa.
In addition, the considerable experience of Javier Mascherano, Gabriel Milito and Seydou Keita can be called upon from the bench. Arsenal’s bench has quality and experience, but the squad’s real comparative weakness is in the first-team, which would match or surpass most teams but which cannot equal Barcelona’s.
This Barca team has won every competition going at least once since Josep Guardiola took over at the Camp Nou in 2008; La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Cup. In short the players know what it takes to win, are used to winning and have built up an invaluable wealth of experience to call upon when things get tough.
Arsenal have shown promise but have always come up short in every competition for the last 5 years – unfortunately for them it appears the Champions League will prove a step too far again this season, thanks to the form of the same team that vanquished them in 2010.
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