It’s Arsenal v Barcelona tonight and while you might think I’m stressed out about it, I’m not. I reckon we’re going to give them a hell of a game tonight and my goodness I’m going to enjoy it.
I analysed this fixture to death last season and in the end my words were virtually useless as Barcelona blew us away in the opening 30 minutes at The Emirates. That we came back from two goals down in the tie to lead 3-2 at one point was absolutely ridiculous really. Barcelona were superior to us in all aspects of the game and Lionel Messi’s four-goal haul eventually gave our opponents the aggregate score their performance deserved.
This time around, with the exception of Bacary Sagna who will miss the game through suspension, we are at full-strength. Even bloody Samir Nasri managed to get up for the game. What a legend.
I seriously cannot remember the last time we went into such a big game with such a clean bill of health and it cannot be underestimated. I just look at our team — assuming that Nasri starts — and look at superb partnerships and combinations all over the pitch.
Up top Robin van Persie is fresh and full of goals, Theo Walcott is a player that scares the heeby-jeebies out of even Lionel Messi, Nasri has been our player of the season and Cesc Fabregas, well he’s just f*cking awesome.
In goals Wojciech Szczesny might be making his Champions League debut, but is anyone actually worried? He oozes confidence and the fact that everybody expects him to play well just reflects on the impact he has made on the team. Meanwhile Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny have formed an outstanding partnership in the middle while Alex Song and Jack Wilshere have done the same just in front of them.
It is a balanced team, far more balanced than we put out against Barcelona last season.
And while there’s no denying that Barcelona are a quality team, the best I have ever seen in my time watching the game, they are not invincible. They might have weapons to hurt us — Lionel Messi, Xavi, Pedro, David Villa — but in Walcott, van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri we have weapons to hurt them too.
It is anybody’s guess as to who wins the midfield battle but what might be more important is what happens on the flanks. It seems certain that Nasri will start but if he doesn’t, Dani Alves could take advantage of Andrey Arshavin’s occasional reluctance to track back and cover Gael Clichy. Similarly, Barcelona may see Sagna’s absence as a potential weakness of ours and use Pedro to target Emmanuel Eboue down the right.
Carles Puyol’s injury means that the pacy Eric Abidal will be moved into central defence, leaving Maxwell exposed on the left. After last season Walcott will surely be licking his lips. Meanwhile if Nasri or Arshavin begins the game well it might force Alves to change his mentality, a result that would surely allow us more control of the game.
It’s all ifs and buts at this stage but it all adds up to one simple conclusion: there is no conclusion. It will be down to who the best side is on the night but with our team fit and in fantastic form, I fancy us to give them a hell of a game.
This is a brilliant opportunity for our boys to show what they’ve got against a superb team. I’ve got flights booked to watch the return leg in Barcelona in a month’s time and if we manage to take a lead into that game, it would put us at a huge advantage.
Let the excitement build. Come on ARSENAL!
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For other great pre-match reading check out Daryl van Horn’s tactical preview of the game for AFCB and a wonderful statistical analysis by Soccerlens.