Reviewing Arsenal’s Champions League Opponents, FC Barcelona
I must admit that I expressed some disappointment when Arsenal was paired with Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Draws. The Gunners head to head record isn’t decent against the Spanish giants with just one win in the last six meetings between both sides. That game will be forever etched in the memories of Arsenal fans because it was a brilliant performance all-round. That Andrey Arshavin goal still sends a tingle or two up my spine anytime I watch it.
Barcelona, as expected, are currently on top of Liga BBVA but they are followed closely by the impressive Atletico Madrid that are actually level on points with the Catalans but have an inferior goal difference. Real Madrid is in third place and are five points behind their eternal rivals that recently smashed them to bits in the El Clasico. They have advanced to the Round of 16 of the Copa del Rey after their 6-1 thrashing of minnows, Villanovense. The team has traveled to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup and they have a semifinal clash against Asian champions, Guangzhou Evergrande.
Looking at their defense, Barcelona isn’t all that invincible. They have conceded 15 goals in 15 La Liga games, keeping only five clean sheets. As always, the fullbacks, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves continue to bomb forward and they don’t have the recovery pace to get back into their defensive positions especially when the opposition hits on the break. If you had watched their heavy 4-1 loss to Celta Vigo early in the season, you would see how the home side exploited their lack of pace at the back. Notwithstanding, Barcelona has some fine center backs in the forms of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, but with the Argentine’s off the pitch challenges, one wonders what his frame of mind could be on the pitch. Who knows, maybe ex-Gunner, Thomas Vermaelen, could get a run out.
The Catalans aren’t really stocked in midfield but they are lucky that most of their key players have remained fully fit for the campaign. Rafinha Alcantara is the only long term absentee after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament but in Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, they have one of the most dynamic midfield trios in the beautiful game. Iniesta is one of the most creative players in the game and his technique is second to none, so the Gunners would have to keep a keen eye on him. Rakitic is in the class of those box to box midfielders that supports the attack from deep and he has a goal or two in him.
Arsenal’s biggest challenge would be dealing with Barcelona’s front line of Lionel Messi, Neymar Junior and Luis Suarez. Last season, Messi scord 58 goals in 57 games, Neymar blasted in 39 goals in 51 games, while Luis Suarez finished his lengthy ban and still managed to score 25 goals in 43 games, bringing the sum total of the three forwards to 122 goals in 151 games. That is really frightening. This season, they have more or less picked up where they left off with Messi coming back from an injury layoff to bang in 11 goals in 16 games, Neymar has scored 16 goals in 18 games while Suarez has scored 19 goals in 21 games.
There’s a lot of time between now and February but in the end, it’s what happens on the night that matters.
All focus should go to the top of the table clash against Manchester City on Monday night. More on that in the coming days.
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