By Bulldog Drummond
We’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again. Look at the Spanish league table. The top four go into the Champs League, 5th and 6th go into Europa.
And what do you know – Sevilla in fifth are closer to relegation than they are to catching Barcelona.
Which tells you all you need to know – the Spanish league, with its still unbalanced TV deals and sponsorship streams, is an utterly warped three team league in the way that the Premier League is not. Yes, the PL has its rich clubs, but it has Arsenal, Tottenham, Man C, Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool, all of whom have the pretensions, if not the track record, of getting and staying in the top four. Six contenders, and we often get another side suddenly poking their noses in – Leicester this year, Everton recently. You just don’t have the competition in Spain.
Thus in Spain there are no bets to be had on who will be in the top three. We know before kick off.
The club may have been involved in the exploitation of children in a way that even the normally laissez-faire Fifa found distasteful. Their playing staff may include a group of tax criminals. But they win games.
Occasionally they draw 0-0, but mostly they win.
Of course the two clubs’ paths have been quite different since 2006 when we played each other in the final. As Mr Wenger so clearly said, “The difference is that Barcelona have spent much more money than we have, it’s as simple as that. In 2006, it was already the case. They already had stars on the way up. And they bought Neymar. We could not have bought Neymar. Maybe today we can.”
He was of course too much of a gent to say that they have bent and broken the rules along the way, so there is that as well. But £71m for Neymar, Luis Suarez for £75m. Arsenal spent £390m on a stadium.
And so Barcelona have not lost since 3 October. They score goals by the zillion – well 23 goals in the last seven games.
So no chance? That’s not right, for there’s always a chance. The superstars are such superstars that they refuse to be dropped or rotated – it might harm their income and sponsorship deals. They had their winter break and now they play play play – 50% more games than Arsenal since the break and without any noticeable rotation.
Partly that’s because they never get injured which could be because of the protection they get from referees. (My, we could have some fun doing ref reviews in the Spanish League!)
Against which, we could go for the 0-0 and nick the away goal in the return – that would be rather nice. Certainly against Bayern Munich the game plan changed. Maybe again. But as Mr Wenger said, “In these big games, with the first tie at home, we can’t be stupid. Many times we’ve won away and conceded at home. We have to find a good balance.”
We know Mr W doesn’t like the away goals rule, for as he says, all it does is encourage home team defensiveness. But he also said, “I cannot go into a game and think I will just play for a zero-zero. I don’t believe you can say you are a big club and just want to defend.
Thierry Henry said Arsenal would “probably only have 30 per cent possession and must be so efficient when they do get the ball. They need everyone to put a shift in. The whole team must defend more as a unit and the wingers must tuck in and play more in their own half.”
So defend, compact in the middle, simple passes, wait, wait, find space, counter attack like mad. That should do it.
The line up is fairly obvious as I suggested in the last post…
Bellerin Mert Kos Monreal
Theo or the Ox Ozil Alexis
To be honest, I am not expecting us to go through, and I’d sooner see our return to trophies continue with the domestic double this season. Let’s enjoy the occasion, hope for the unexpected but if we don’t then make sure we win all the league and FA Cup matches between now and the end of the season.
- 23 February 1913: Tottenham supported by Clapton Orient called for a meeting of the League Management Committee to prohibit Arsenal’s move north. However the League reiterated their statement of 1910 that nothing in the rule book controlled where a club played its home games.
- 23 February 1965: Joe Baker scored Arsenal’s 100th league goal against Tottenham in this 3-1 victory in front of 48,367. Baker also got a second goal and Radford the other.
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