Arsenal take on Barcelona at The Emirates tonight in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie, and whilst the odds are stacked against Arsene Wenger’s side there are some that are quietly confident that the Premier League title challengers can come away from the game with a positive result.
This isn’t the first time Arsenal will be facing one of the competition’s giants with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich also going head to head with The Gunners earlier in the season.
Humbled 5-1 at the Allianz Arena, the defeat was preceded by an impressive 2-0 home win where Arsenal soaked up constant pressure from the German champions before catching them cold on the break to secure a famous win.
And they will need to invoke the memory of this again if they are to go to the Nou Camp in 3 weeks still in the tie.
Football Fanzone’s Jason Cundy thinks a tactical maturing of Wenger gives the North London side every chance of doing so:
This is undoubtedly a tough game for Arsenal, in fact the toughest in world football given Barcelona’s style and star studded lineup. But over the years Arsenal have shown that they can go toe to toe with Europe’s elite, even if they fall short, as was the case with Bayern Munich.
There was a time where Arsenal approached every game the same way, but more recently we have seen a tactical awakening from Arsene Wenger, starting with the win at the Etihad last season. We saw it this season at The Emirates against Bayern too, where Arsenal sat, soaked up the relentless pressure of the German champions and then caught them on the break with goals from Ozil and Giroud.
Arsenal played well that night and it highlights the importance of how Wenger sets up. Personally I think he should pack the midfield and attempt to refuse the Spanish side any space. Of course this is easier said than done due to the the lovely 3 man triangle passes they play, sharpened by endlessly practising rondos.
Arsenal will have to be particularly weary of Barcelona’s 3rd man runs and the fact that they seem to allow their fullbacks to run in behind with such ease. With Bellerin’s penchant to get forward, assuming he plays, he will have to be alert to this threat.
Arsenal have so many options in terms of how to play this, should they go with pace up top like they did against Bayern and start Walcott through the middle? Or on the other hand they can go for Giroud, interesting given that it was he that sparked the breakthrough against Pep’s side.
Giroud is an interesting option given that Spanish sides can be got at via set pieces. His goal against Bayern came from one and he may be able to have a similar effect on the reigning holders.
Regardless of how Wenger goes, his side will need to be at the races from the first whistle. Barca have the insane ability to take a game away from you in minutes, especially with the likes of Messi, Neymar and the deadly Suarez looking to get onto the end of any chances, and create their own too. Arsenal will need to keep it tight for the first 15 minutes, allow as few chances as they can and hopefully grow into the game.
The focus seems to be on Barcelona, but it is like people are forgetting that Arsenal too have players that can hurt Luis Enrique’s side. Aaron Ramsey remains a goal threat from midfield, ex Barca man Alexis Sanchez has looked out of sorts but remains a constant menace and Arsenal’s man of the season Mesut Ozil will have the experience of facing Barca numerous times during his spell as a Real Madrid player. He has been criticised for not performing in Arsenal’s big games, but can put that notion to bed in these upcoming ties and Arsenal will need him to if they are to progress.