Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Arsenal vs. Barcelona Match Preview

Lionel Messi (courtesy prettyfriendship)

Watching Arsenal is often stressful but it's never dull, is it? As we approach the season's climax, we have more injuries than Darren Anderton on a bad day, but we're still holding in there.

Against Wolves on Saturday we won ugly again, leaving it until the very last minute of stoppage time before Nicklas Bendtner popped up with the vital goal to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. At least we can see that this side never gives up.

Tonight it's Barcelona. Every man and his dog has come out in praise of Barca after they annihilated us for three quarters if the first leg, and rightly so. However, Barca played probably as well as they are capable of in that match and Arsenal were below-par, but we still came away with a 2-2 draw. So we have every right to hope that if Arsenal can be on their game tonight and Barca are slightly below their best, we can get the result we need. A one goal win will be enough.

Unfortunately, the Arsenal injury fairy has been at work again. The Arsenal squad has been announced and Alex Song isn't in it, while Sol Campbell and Tomas Rosicky are rated as doubtful. I know that Arsene Wenger doesn't usually play Campbell in two consecutive matches but I expect him to play tonight. The thought of Mickel Silvestre being torn a new one by Barcelona fills me with dread, and probably Arsene Wenger as well, so if there is any chance of Sol starting the match then I think he will. Plus, after this match, he has over week to recover before we play sp***s.

Rosicky is more tricky. Arsene Wenger has more options on the wings. There has been quite a lot of speculation about whether Theo Walcott will start, but I think Wenger's preferred option is to have him come off the bench in the second half when Barca are tiring and run rings around them as he did in the first leg. Rosicky's injury makes the decision more difficult. If there is any doubt about his fitness, Arsene may be tempted to start with Theo, but if Tomas is passed fit (and I suspect he will be) then I thinkWenger will start with him on the left and Eboue on the right, which should make us more solid defensively. And we will need that because, despite Barca only needing a draw, I think they will want to impress their home fans, so they will come at us in force early on.

With all the injuries, the midfield three pretty much picks itself. Samir Nasri will come in to replace the revered one, Song will be replaced by Denilson, and Diaby is pretty much a cert despite his poor performance in the first leg. If we are under the cosh, expect Diaby to play a deeper role alongside Denilson, and the two wide players to drop back so that we have more of a 4-4-1-1 with Nasri playing in just behind Bendtner.

The good news is that Barcelona have a few problems of their own. At the back, they will be missing their normal centreback pairing of Carlos Puyol and Gerald Pique who are both suspended, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored both their goals in the first leg, will miss the match through injury. Like Arsenal, Barcelona have a good squad and should be able to replace the missing players with ones almost as good. Going forward, certainly, I don't think they will miss Ibrahimovic that much. Remember, that a certain Theirry Henry was only on the bench for the first leg and they also have Bojan, who came on for Ibrahimovic after he got injured at the weekend.

If there is hope for Arsenal then it is that Barca will be weaker at the back. Although Puyol and Pique looked very comfortable on the ball in the first leg, there were signs that they can be got at if they are put under pressure, and you wonder how good their replacements will be. The Barca fullbacks also struggled in the first leg when Arsenal started to put them under pressure.

So, can we do it? Undoubtedly. But it will be tough. And we may need a bit of luck to go our way. Whatever happens though, expect it to be stressful but not dull.

Come on you gooners!

Probable team:

Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy;
Nasri, Denilson, Diaby;
Eboue, Bendtner, Rosicky

Arsenal squad in full: Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo, Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Fran Merida, Theo Walcott, Craig Eastmond, Tomas Rosicky, Armand Traore, Emmanuel Eboue, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre.

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