Despite being two of their respective nation’s biggest domestic sides, the upcoming Champions League fixtures between Arsenal and Barcelona has a tad of an inferiority complex about it. The all-conquering Catalans are heavily tipped to brush aside a team who are currently favourites to lift the Premier League crown (according to the bookies).
After some recent displays of brute footballing force and almost unthinkable quality, the Spanish giants rightfully claim the favourites crown in this tie. Nevertheless, the Gunners still have a big role to play in the fixture, they have beaten some of the best the world of football has to offer this season and will now come up against the most prestigious challenge of all.
Luis Enrique’s men are currently on a 31-game unbeaten streak, a feat which is undoubtedly one which warrants high praise and their front three are without question the most talented offensive trio ever assembled in football. However, they are certainly not unbeatable and Arsenal can without question frustrate and perhaps defeat a seemingly unstoppable force.
Let’s take a look at each area of the pitch and how Arsenal can look make a valid attempt to keep the beast at bay.
Defensively is where Arsene Wenger and his troops are going to be tested like never before. This Barca side move offensively better than anyone and are capable of delivering a killer blow from a variety of angles and positions.
That being said they can of course be halted. What we have seen from Arsenal in recent big games, namely against German giants Bayern Munich, was their ability to show a higher degree of pragmatism within their play.
Staying disciplined as a unit will be key, but individually players will also have to deliver. Hector Bellerin will have arguably one of the most daunting tasks on the pitch as he looks to shackle the Brazilian enigma, Neymar.
A player who this season has embraced the left-wing as his own and has torn full-backs to shreds with his acceleration and skill. Bellerin will have to restrict his offensive game in order to stay close to the Barca man while trying to show him on the outside to avoid that lethal right foot.
Nacho Monreal on the opposite side will have to be wary of a threat which we have all become accustom to in this generation of football, Lionel Messi. The Argentine thrives on coming inside to wreak havoc on opposing defences so Nacho will possibly have to play a tad narrower to support his more central teammates and hope he gets the required cover from midfield to help tackle Dani Alves’ forward runs.
Luis Suarez will of course look to isolate Per Mertescaker but the BFG has proved on numerous occasions that he is capable of marshalling the finest strikers. His lack of pace has been a topic of lazy journalism which has frustrated me in recent times and while players do obviously target the German, he has proved a stern competitor time and time again.
He and Laurent Koscielny may have to sit a bit deeper to remove the threat of runs in behind, which is an option that Barcelona with Suarez, have utilised very effectively this season – his goal against Atletico Madrid is proof of this fact.
Going forward this side are more than just tiki-taka these days, Arsenal have the difficult job of trying to neutralise various offensive threats. Glad it’s not me out there.
The battle in the centre of the park could have a huge bearing upon how the game is dictated. Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil will no doubt be three central candidates tasked with trying to match Barca’s midfield.
An interesting tactic which has benefitted some teams in oppressing their midfield this season has been stifling the input of Sergio Busquets. The Spaniard acts almost as a conductor for the team and if he is rushed and forced into errors, the whole side as a unit often slow down.
In our 2-0 win over Bayern we afforded Xabi Alonso, a man who performs a similar role, a lot of time and space on the ball. Fortunately, we were not taken advantage of, but if we allow this to happen again we may suffer. Ozil should be looking to press the Barca anchor-man as much as possible and stop the danger at its source.
Discipline will be the name of the game for Coq and Rambo. The Welshman will have to fight every urge to burst forward and will have to try and match the robust energy of Ivan Rakitic – something he is certainly capable of.
Coq’s main tasks will of course be to provide extra support to the defence and attempt to nullify Andres Iniesta – easier said than done, I know. The little Spanish magician can brush opponents aside with ease and split whole teams apart with his driving runs forward, so our French enforcer must maintain a strict position and not dive in, a trait which on occasions he does fall foul to.
We are more than capable of putting in a midfield display of this calibre and disrupting the Spaniards in this way will go some way to removing part of the MSN threat – emphasis on the ‘part’ though.
Four essential components have to make up our offensive play if we are to stand a chance of victory; discipline, pace, power and clinical finishing.
Our wide men will have to stay disciplined and show their defensive nous, otherwise will be overrun out on the flanks and subject to footballing torture. However, they will also have the arduous task of being an outlet on the counter, providing pace and penetration on the occasions we do break forward. A combination that is not easy to perform, but one which could pay dividends to our offensive output.
Pace has been something which has troubled the Catalan’s this season, their 4-1 loss to Celta Vigo was proof of this as they struggled to contain the likes of Nolito and Orellana on the flanks. Their speed caught Barca cold throughout the match and is a tactic we should certainly look to replicate.
The power component will of course be provided by Olivier Giroud. Against Leicester, he once again proved just how vital he can be to our side as a physical presence and bringing others in to play. Against the more miniscule frame of Javier Mascherano, the Frenchman has an opportunity to isolate an opponent for which he will certainly attain a lot of joy.
Giroud will need to become the outlet we all know he can be and while playing Theo Walcott down the middle could force Barca’s defence to deploy themselves deeper, physicality could be a weapon which will prove more beneficial.
Clinical finishing speaks for itself, as a team this season we have been ludicrously wasteful and have subsequently failed to secure vital points domestically. In a game of this magnitude and as the underdog, this is something we cannot afford to do again.
It will be a game that will no doubt prove thrilling for the neutral and heart palpitating for as loyal Gooners. We can win if we obey tactics such as these but whether we will is another thing entirely. Hope for the best and who knows, we may be rewarded.