Arsenal Barca: what more can we say? Well quite a lot actually.

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Arsenal v Barca, previewed by Phil Gregory

Well here we are people, the big one, Barcelona. Win or lose, I think we’re all expecting a real feast of football, and both legs promise to be nights that will be etched into our memories.

A quick glance at the Barcelona website reveals a club thinking in the same way as we were prior to our trip to Porto: we don’t want to lose, and we’d like to score.

A lot of fans are building Barcelona up into something they’re not; this team is beatable. As all fans do, we look at our own team in a much harsher light than we look at other sides. Some may wonder “if we can’t beat Birmingham, how can we beat Barcelona?” but this sort of logic (in the weakest sense of the word) doesn’t stand up to much. If Barcelona concede twice to Zaragoza (Spain’s Hull/Wigan) how many times will we score against them? It goes both ways.

Much like us, this Barcelona defence isn’t much great shakes, though I will admit they’ve conceded less than half a goal a game. This is more down to their team-wide defensive effort: hard pressing from the front once possession is lost. The logic is clear: it’s proven that teams are a lot more likely to score when they win the ball in the final third than if they pass their way through to the final third.

Most likely, the “transition phase” immediately after winning possession creates a window of opportunity as good as the best passing move.

We must watch this. While our gung-ho approach is more than just admirable from an aesthetic point of view, it yields us results. Many criticise our forward-running centrebacks, but for me it is a tactical masterstroke: who marks Vermaelen or Gallas when he storms forward?

All things equal, surely the free man on the opposing team is their centre forward, who is most likely fifty yards away. Given the calibre of our passing, a free man is an absolutely priceless commodity to have, and I don’t think Barcelona will have experienced the like before.

We can get at their defence. Whenever I’ve watched Brazil, Dani Alves has always functioned as a right winger, with Maicon storming past him on the overlap.  Alves is, to me, a weakness. I’d expect to see Arshavin put him through his paces, but the Russian must be aware and track back too.  In that regard, Song will have a major role to play too, as we can expect the Catalans to push their fullbacks forward whenever possible, and the Cameroonian must be mobile and aware to prevent a 2 on 1 situation emerging.

On the other flank, Abidal is out for both legs of the tie, and Brazilian Maxwell has deputised in recent games. Maxwell has, like Alves played higher up the flank in the past and while admittedly I haven’t seen much of him, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be weaker defensively than the Frenchman who also plays centreback at international level. If Samir is given the nod to play wide right, I’d love to see a rerun of his magic feet against Porto for THAT goal.

Both Marquez and Pique are noted for their ability on the ball (both have spent time in the holding role for various clubs in their careers) and ability to chip in with the odd goal but as out and out defenders I don’t see them as superior to our Gallas and Vermaelen.

Though I’ve not even given a mention to Puyol and Milito, both who have figured regularly this season. Puyol seems to be more of a traditional no-nonsense, all commitment centreback, and interestingly comes in at under six foot, much like Vermaelen.

I’m not well informed enough on Spanish football to predict who’ll line up for the Catalans, though it’ll most likely be club captain Puyol partnered by either Pique or Marquez.

We know that their main midfield man, Iniesta is out which is a boost for us. I’d expect a midfield of Xavi partnering either of Busquets/Keita, with Yaya holding. Looking at that, I  frankly, I think we can win the midfield battle, especially if Cesc’s fit, but more on that later.

In the forward positions, Pedro has been impressive for them (so much so that he has kept Henry out of the team)  though we could see TH14 in that wide left berth.  Ibrahimovic will no doubt start at centre forward, with the sublime Lionel Messi finishing off their attacking trident.

Ibrahimovic is starting to justify his fee with goals recently, though it is Messi who has stolen the show. It’s not possible to stop the little Argentine in his current form, so we should look to impose ourselves on the opposition. As I pointed out earlier, Song’s support is crucial when the ball goes down the flanks but we can’t tie our fullbacks to our own half. By allowing them to play the game as they know iut best, they can force errors from their opposite numbers and expose the weaker defence of the Catalans. I’d also back Sagna to keep anything they put down the left flank quiet all game.

But there’s a further problem: the current talk is that Fabregas has a 40% chance of playing, but that Gallas is in the squad.  I am taking it that Fabregas will be fit, but Gallas will be on the bench.   But of course that could change around.

Predicted lineup:


Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy


Fabregas Diaby

Nasri Bendtner Arshavin

Although we could just as likely see:


Sagna Song Vermaelen Clichy


Fabregas Diaby

Nasri Bendtner Arshavin.

Having typed it out, I’m leaning towards Arsène going for the 2nd of the two lineups I’ve put up. I’m unsure if Sol will be given the nod (he will have had a bit of respite given we played on a Saturday and Wednesday) though I know Arsène will make the right call.

I’m not convinced Song is vital to decide the midfield battle. This will not be a physical game: filling space, interceptions and tidy use of possession will be what win us the game here, and those are three things I associate with Denilson. I’d love to see Diaby involved in this game, he could have a massive say in the outcome. His ability to keep possession combined with a physicality that Barcelona won’t see very much of at all makes me think the young Frenchman has a big role to play, if passed fit.

Nasri, although by all rights performing better in recent times from the middle of the park, can play wide and I expect him to put in a big performance against Barcelona’s makeshift rightback. Worried about your place in the France squad, Samir? Here’s a chance to stake your claim with the world watching.

Arshavin versus Alves is a key contest in this match, but I’ve already touched on it so onto Nik Bendtner. We all know the Dane loves the big occasion, and with a Champions League hat trick under his belt, he’s right up there with the top scorers in the competition. He’s played some great games for us recently, and I fully expect him to have the beating of Barcelona’s centrebacks in the air. It could be crucial, allowing us a route one option on the counter attack.

I don’t expect Theo to start, possession will be gold and that’s not his strong point. Late on, as an impact substitute he could well figure, the plan B so to speak. There will be space behind Barcelona’s fullbacks for him to exploit, and who better than Theo to take advantage?

Eboue? More likely to replace the right forward late on if we have an advantage to hold on, I’d expect. He’s good at defending from the front, but is great on the counter and can take advantage of tired legs.

I’m going to go for 2-1 to the Arsenal, or a 2-2 draw. With the away goals  rule, a 2-1 victory is only a  narrow, narrow victory, but I’d be more than happy with it. This tie isn’t like any other: can you imagine either side trying (or managing to) shut up shop with an advantage in the second leg? Not a chance.

There’ll be goals in both legs, and we’ll get our fair share of them. Barcelona’s greatest defensive strength is their possession play, and it remains to be seen how well they react to a side who can keep the ball as well (or better) than themselves.

Win or lose, this will be a match to remember. Enjoy it wherever you are watching it.


The Untold Index
Billy the Dog’s take on Barca: Welcome to the pig’s head
Enjoy the Barca game: they are about to go bust. Tony Attwood
The day the modern Arsenal was born. Tony Attwood

40 Replies to “Arsenal Barca: what more can we say? Well quite a lot actually.”

  1. This game should have been the final of the CL. But now one of the best footballing teams have to go out at this stage. Its a shame I think.
    It will be 2 interesting games and I really think if we play at our best we can beat them.
    Even if Cesc would not be fit I think we have enough players, like Nasri, who can fill in for Cesc.

  2. yes its atuff match i believe but taking the the two clubs Brcelona may take it for having strong cutting adge,andpower full mid field force.
    ifArsebnal content the pressure and have clear cutting adge they can take it.Im an ARSENAL FAN .UGANDA,MAKERERE UNIVERSITY

  3. Agree with you Walter. They haven’t got Iniesta, it almost seems “fairer” if we don’t have Cesc!

    Very curious to see what happens with Gallas though.

  4. Great write up Phil,

    If we score first and go for the kill we can definitely win this game, at all costs we can not defend a 1:0 lead.

    Come on you Gooners!!!

  5. Great post once again tony tonight is gonna be a cracker i hope we dont see the arsenal of last season the guys gotta be up for dis one . I think wenger should start experimenting wit diaby as a CF next season his got all the skill in the world

  6. ‘“if we can’t beat Birmingham, how can we beat Barcelona?” but this sort of logic (in the weakest sense of the word) doesn’t stand up to much’

    I take a slightly more wacky slant: when I was toddling home before going out to watch Arsenal play Real in 2006, I said to a colleague at work: ‘we lost the last 3 games, so we’ll probably win 1-0 in the Bernabeu’. Don’t know why I thought it, but I promise you, I’m not making it up!

    When comparing sides, you look not only at their weapons, you look at ours. And we possess plenty.

    They do not possess 11 Messis. And we possess a lot of match winners too.

    I can’t wait.

  7. You guys are up to it again(just as u did before birmingham game),and what was the results? This time around,you are going to get spanked.Don’t forget what happened to Man u yesterday.Today is ur own turn.

  8. Austino – Who the hell are ya ?

    Stick to your insurance broker shit…you knob end!

  9. Don’t poke the troll Arthur.

    His life is SO sad and pointless he has to resort to going on to football blogs of teams he doesn’t support. His sole purpose? To annoy people. His sole reason? A desperate bid to get anyone to pay him some attention.

    We can be sure of five things about our pet troll Gaystino:

    1. He has no friends
    2. He is both short and ugly
    3. He has a VERY small penis
    4. He’s still a virgin
    5. He’s looks like a spud, because he is one

    Now lets leave the sad little troll alone and not remember not to feed him.


  10. @walter
    games like this should be played as many times as they can be, so a quarter or semis is much better than a single final…

  11. Nice write up, Phil..

    Hope that these 2 matches live up to their hype. Will be an interesting encounter none the less..

    I’m going with your second line-up with Nasri playing the Cesc role and Eboue wide right. Eboue will be handful for Maxwell to handle and Pique/Yaya will try to support him which would leave a gap in the middle for Nasri and Diaby to exploit. Theo coming on 70mins with Eboue playing as RB(if the scoreline is close) would be too much for their left flank..

    And I’m sure AA will keep Alves in his pocket tonight as AA has an habit of staying in attack even when we defend which would make Alves think twice before he makes any attacking run. Diaby will cover Clichy as evident in the last few games.

    So here’s hoping for a wonderful match a 2-goal victory for the Gunners!!

  12. i am amazed by your exclusion of eboue. he will win this game for us.
    i prefer him to sagna. arsenal are so potent with that man in the mix.
    his absence is the reason we strugled at birmingham.

  13. Tonight should be an exhibition on how football should be played!!! ARSENAL RISING!

  14. Cheers Johnny,feel sorry 4 poor Gay…You’ve surely made my day,really tickled

  15. Lee: Eboue I left out because I’m expecting possession to be paramount. I don’t deny he’s been on form, and I like him as a player, but while he can take a man on, his end product isn’t the best and at this level we need to be clinical. Him and Theo as impacts subs, unless Nasri plays the Cesc role, and then right forward is up for grabs.

    And all this talk of Barca lite is doing my head in. As I see it, there is nothing between the centrebacks of either team (I would take ours though), song > Yaya, Cesc > Iniesta, Alves and Sagna both have opposite strengths so I’ll put those two equal to each other, Van Persie and Arshavin would also get into Barca’s side in their respective positions.

    To me, that’s roughly half.

  16. Eboue or Sagna – no contest Eboue the man for this game, his driving runs into the heart of the Barca defence is just what we need tonight.
    We need to be bold and hit Barca hard with our own footballing skills not wait and see what they come at us with.

    The team I’d like to see play tonight is as follows:

    Eboue Gallas Vermalan Clichy

    Denilson Fabrigas Diaby

    Nasri Eduardo Arshavin

    That team can beat Barca!!!!

    Come you gunners!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. this is a general statement. i just think pple should stop saying fab will meet his makers and he was made in barca. thats as ridiculous as saying henry was made at juventus or some team like that. fabregas was made at highbury period.

  18. lee, he grew up in Catalunya, and spent years 10-16 at La Masia. He speaks Catalonian, had a Barca membership at birth, and still counts an autographed Guardiola shirt as one of his most prized possessions. Stop me if I’m going too fast, but that sounds like he’s Barcelona.

  19. WOW.

    I can’t wait to read Walter’s comments on the referring today…

    I think we’ll pull it off!

  20. That was unbelievable. Did Diaby have the worst game of any Arsenal player all season tonight? He was AWFUL!!!!

    Amazing comeback. Now to Barcelona with them missing their first choice defense. Then again, we will be without Cesc and Gallas by the looks of it. But I thought Denilson was our best player tonight by a mile once he got the pace of the game. Cesc looked overwhelmed. I fancy Nasri in his position for the return leg. Diaby needs to buck up.





    We are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO bloody lucky to still be in this tie.

  21. Yeah, what happened to Diaby? I thought he would be the difference maker today.

    Well, we need him to get his confidence up for the return.

  22. I Loved Denilson today.. A great guy..

    Now I can see a fraction of what Arsene sees in him.. Loved to see him get us back the confidence.. My favourite Diaby had a bad game but he will come good…

    Love you Denilson..

  23. Like I said : it isn’t over till it’s over. If we put Theo next week on the pitch, it will be him that shoots us to the next round.
    To many players not at their best for this game.
    Cesc was not 100% fit and I think we should have kept him off the field and let him recover for the weekend.
    Arshavin injured again after a few minutes. So we almost with 9,5 players in the first half hour.
    Diaby was not like we know him so it was 9 on the pitch at times.
    Then Gallas again out…
    But in the first half Almunia played for 3 players on his own.
    I don’t know if the partnership Vermaelen – Song was working for 100 %. Some misunderstanding by both goals I think that would not have happened with Gallas or Campbell ? But it was the first time I think they really played together and then against Barcelona. Those things can happen against such a great team.
    Second half Denilson was great I found once he came in the game.
    Walcott had a great game and he will kill them at Nou Camp. The were scared to death after his first runs.
    Diaby was still missing and certainly in attack he was not as good as he can be. Cesc still not fit. So we played once again with some 9,5 players.
    Almunia looked unlucky with the first goal, I think it was a lack of concentration with only seconds played. Not at fault with the second goal.
    Bendtner was to isolated at times.
    Nasri was the player who will be our main player next week at Nou Camp. He will have to do it like against Porto.

    The maing thing I keep in mind is that if you can play with so many players not up to it and still get this result, we still can do it IF our players are up to it next week.
    Barcelona has lost a home game in the CL this season. Like against Rubin Kazan.

    And yes Barcelona was great and deserved to win but they didn’t.

  24. Almunia-first half unreal,2nd half utter shite as usual
    Sagna-thought he did well
    Vermaelen-caught for the goal did well otherwise
    Gallas-should not have played
    Clichy-did ok considering nasri didnt bother his hole dropping back all game
    Cesc-should not have been on teh pitch,great attitude and bottle
    Diaby-pathetic,dont show up mate if your not prepared to put in a shift
    Denilson-did he do anything?
    Arshavin-shouldnt have been on the pitch
    Song-did well at the back,should have communicated beeter with Vermaelen for the goal
    Bendtner-huffed and puffed but had no impact except for the knock down for the goal and the header that he came close with
    Nasri-Did well going forward but let Danny Alves overlap him all game
    Theo-made a big difference actually tried taking on a player and took the goal well
    Eboue-worked for the team and played ok,made a nice few runs up the wing linking well with Theo

  25. Wenger gets raped tactically imo everytime he plays against a good manager – in the first half our players were all over the place and in my opinion wengers “fluid” formation was exploited by barca cos our players do not have defined positions or areas of the pitch and there was sooo many gaps for them to run into as a result.

    Our injuries – I can totally understand why cesc was risked but I cannot understand how the decision was left to him Confused Rolling Eyes Managers manage so a decision like this should only be made by wenger and/or the medical staff. I also believe that leaving him on for the last 8 minutes or so was a scandalous decision considering he couldnt walk – they were down to 10 men too so why not take him off instead of serious risk of further damage ?
    I also have to say that playing gallas was a poor decision too when you consider he hasnt played for so long

    Almunia – made some very good saves in the 1st half and there can be no denying that but totally at fault for the first goal and, imo, shouldnt be beaten from that angle in the 2nd half either

    I will also say that I thought that denilson did well when he came on tonight and theo did look as if he scared them shitless.

    Overall we got out of jail but at least, for the fans travelling fans, it means that the tie is still alive

  26. About the penalty.
    Cesc was standing in front of goal (6 meters out) and had a goal scoring chance.
    Puyol clamped (sorry really cant remember a better English word) his shooting leg. No doubt about the foul and penalty.
    The red card was the only solution for 2 reasons. Puyol was the last defender and a goal scoring opportunity. So the ref had no option to send him off.
    I think the ref had it spot on, in this situation.

    Cesc his yellow card : this is what I mean with you have to look at the second leg. Cesc kicks the ball with his right foot but with his other foot hits the player. Hard to take at that moment but correct.
    Arshavin yellow card was a bit light. But I can understand the thinking of the ref for not allowing that type of tackle and give a yellow.
    Eboue was late so could be given
    Diaby, I would have given it also.

    Must say that I think he could have given a few yellow cards more against Barcelona.

    For the rest the ref was strict against us and let some things go from Barcelona. He punished every little push or nudge from our players but on the other hand he allowed them to tackle and when our player lost possession after the tackle he let play go.

    But I think the ref is not to blame for our performance.

  27. whatever about us conceding two, i am still buzzing after the game. its true we didnt have a full squad, and maybe cesc and galls shouldnt gave started and theo and eboue should have, and maybe diaby didnt have a good game, but i put this down to barcas brilliance. a truly great game of footie spoiled only by the two un barca like goals they scored.

    we’re still in it, an dif we can get past wolves without any more injuries i reckon the next leg will be a cracker.

  28. Walter: held/ obstructed are probably the words you want. Hope that helps :).

    I thought the referee was fairly solid, a little harsh on Cesc, but Walter offers a good insight on his reasoning. Diaby just had one of those days, normally good ball control and technique, it just wasn’t happening today.

    I’ll sit and muse my thoughts and stick them in the article for the next leg.

  29. Hello everyone, great site here.
    Great match tonite and definitely a great result. Once the second goal went in, the shackles came right off and our boys began to show what they can do. Bear in mind that this is still a rather young team while Barcelona have a team of players largely in their prime. If we can dispel the nerves and get into our groove early on in the second leg who knows what could happen.
    Today was definitely an invaluable lesson for our players. They experienced the level they need to get to (and surpass) to be considered the best. Indeed for the last 20 minutes of the match they were able to perform to that level. Personally, I’m taking a lot of encouragement from those last 20 and I know we can do a job in the Nou Camp.
    Full respect to Barcelona for showing us what football can be like at its most beautiful. It was a pleasure to see (when I was able to pause for breath after the match and reflect on what had happened) and I have new admiration for that team. But I’m afraid they will be out after next week, poor them.
    Tony, for starting such a great site you are my hero.

  30. Almunia was not at fault ,the defence left him on his own for both goal and he have to close down on Ibraoostrich 😉 .On most Premiership striker he would have save it but the swede have a superb technic and lob him

    Almunia deserve out thx would we be 5-0 half time : 9
    Sagna was alright but couldn’t t go forward :5
    Gallas start well but song have to take over and he done alright 7 (for song at CB)
    Vermaelem i think left us wide open (for the two goal) in back pushing to much forward 5
    Clichy has done a great game i think 7
    Diaby worst game this year by mile 3
    Narsi was the only midfield doing anything right at first half and the only creating anything
    Cesc his injury was not gone and his tackle brought it back and got soft yellow he will miss second match 5
    Bendy left too much alone and done an amazing job without any support : 7
    SUB: THEO once on ,the match was going totally the other way , him and Eboue brought pace and skill on the right leaving the poor Maxcell on the back foot: 9 for the combo who change the match
    Denilson was great and bring balance to our midfield :7

  31. What a comeback from the team!!! They stuck in even when the score line was 0-2. The team was in huge pressure to perform well and they found it hard to play. Kudos to Barca for the first 60mins. They played the game in the best way. Xavi was instrumental in the game and he was the one(not Messi) who pulled the strings. In the second half, Denilson had the measure of Xavi and that stopped Barca was playing. Denilson was the at his best and is going to be MASSIVE in the return leg.

    Almunia felt like the best GK in the world yesterday in the first half. He couldnt have done anything for the goals conceded and he is the reason we’re still in this tie. We could have been out of the tie in the first 10mins!!!

    Vermaelen was eager to get forward a lot that was the reason why we conceded those goals. He left a gap in the defence and they wasnt much Song could have done. Maybe a few training sessions together as a pair would sort that out.

    Diaby did have a poor game but lets not forget he likes to his time on the ball and Barca didnt give him any time in the first 30mins. But the goood thing is He didnt give up and I’m sure he’ll come strong in the second leg.

    The event that made me feel real proud was when our captain came on to play even after getting injured. That showed which club is in his blood now.. He is Arsenal now.. I love it…

  32. Cesc fears he has broken his fibula…. And still he went on the field, he was useless but he did not want to give up. What a captain, what a player, what a man, what a Gunner, what a Gooner.

    And I am no docter but I really think if it is broken now, it is the final result of the “great” tackle from that Birmingham scumbag. I think in that tackle, where he went in after playing the ball with his other food and kicked Cesc under his knee, Cesc got a very thin burst in his leg. And then it only takes one little knock to brake his leg completely.

    When I broke my leg it happened like that. The game before I got some viscious kicks and my leg was painfull and it felt like a bruise leg. But the next weekend the worst pain was over but one good kick and my leg was hanging off. When I told this to the docter afterwards he explained me how he thought it had gone. He even told me that they even can’t see those little burst in the legs on x-rays but once it is there the bone is easily broken by another incident.

  33. Denilson is superb. When he got grip of the game, barcelona stopped playing. With lack of a better word i can only summarize his performance in 1 word , WOW.

  34. Cesc has been the subject of some systematic Rotational Kicking for some games now.

    I guess that’s why they are called Stress Fracture’s…???
    (the injury has not been diagnosed yet)

  35. Oops, that didn’t make sense.
    I thought the same thing as Walter, but wanted to add, there have been a number of OTT challenges allowed on Cesc recently that could’ve caused an injury.

    Thought Cesc should’ve come off on Saturday and been rested yesterday.

    It seems that sometimes we have to follow our heart’s, and not our head’s.

    Inspiring stuff.

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