Had it not been for Nicklas Bendtner’s league-saving goal against Wolves on Saturday I would be feeling very differently about our chances against Barcelona than I do right now.
As it is that late goal has kept us in the league and made the Champions League something of a bonus in the grand scheme of things, providing the sort of confidence boost that can make obstacles such as the paucity of first-choice options feel more like a bump than a block in the road.
Make no mistake: Bendtner’s goal has given our players a chance that they may thought they were not going to get and the psychological implications of that could be massive.
Barcelona will be confident after scoring two away goals but disappointed that they couldn’t come away from London with a win after dominating the first half. They will be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic through injury, both Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique through suspension while Andres Iniesta, Yaya Toure and Jeffren are all unlikely to start (according to Barcelona Football Blog).
While we knew we would have to do without Andrey Arshavin, William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas (and a host of other long-termers) after last week’s match, the bad news is that Tomas Rosicky and Sol Campbell have question marks over their involvement while Alex Song, crucially, is out after sustaining damage to his knee cartilage.
The quality in that list is scarily good and it means a number of fringe players have no choice but to step up and play the game of their lives if we are to pull off an unlikely win.
Manuel Almunia will captain the side from goals, protected by a back four containing Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy, who were both rested on the weekend in anticipation of this game, as well as Thomas Vermaelen and most likely a tired Campbell.
Samir Nasri has a huge part to play in tonight’s game as the direct replacement for Cesc as the team’s creative outlet. He will receive support from Abou Diaby, who struggled in the first leg and Denilson, who impressed after coming on with his neat passing and ability to maintain possession.
Meanwhile up front Bendtner will lead the line with support from any two of Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Eboue, Tomas Rosicky or Eduardo. Given that Rosicky is rated as 50:50, Eduardo looks out of form and Eboue was substituted you have to think the starting pair will be Walcott and Eboue.
It is virtually impossible to predict what will happen tonight there is no excuse for our players not to put in absolutely everything they’ve got into beating Barcelona. There is a full eight-day break between this match and the North London Derby against Spurs and that means there will be more than enough time for the players involved to be fresh for that game too.
It is interesting to consider that while we have eight days off before our next match, Barcelona have a massive game at The Bernabeu against Madrid on the weekend. As professional an outfit as Barcelona are, there’s no doubting that Pep Guardiola will have his eye on Madrid and that could certainly work in our favour.
What is for certain is that if our boys can pull off a winning result tonight then this game will go down in Arsenal folklore. An epic night of football awaits.
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