Arsenal have done it before, can they do it again? #AFC v FCB

Arsenal vs Barcelona

There have been quite a few articles this week on how we can beat Barcelona. I particularly liked this one from Michael Cox, where he argues the combination of early pressing and deep defending for the remainder of the game can do the trick. Then there were two, very similar in the idea they conveyed, articles from @Stillberto and @PoznanInMyPants. Both fine writers expressed their thoughts that this Arsenal side, though more by accident than design, is better equipped for counter-attacking football and utilising the full width of the pitch. Indeed, much of our recent struggles have come when we reverted to classic Wengerball (like the 0-0 against Hull) without having the personnel to make it work. And though neither article mentions our Barcelona game, I think the timing of both speaks for itself. Last, but not least, Danny here on Gunnerstown did a detailed piece on what players are best equipped to negate the threats of this Barcelona side. As I happen to agree with him completely, I won’t dwell on who I would put out and why and concentrate on something a bit different.

Done it once

Done it once

As my Hull report was warmly welcomed in certain quarters and, given the abundance of the standard previews and negative opinions you will undoubtedly encounter in the build-up to this Barca game (if you haven’t already), I’d veer from my usual preview format. Instead, I’ll focus on the reasons why I think Arsenal CAN beat Barcelona on Tuesday and, indeed, on aggregate. After all, if you can do it once, you can do it twice, can’t you?

Yet to concede to Messi

Yet to concede to Messi

We have Petr Cech

And I’m not talking about this “Cech has never conceded a goal from Lionel Messi” stat, which has been doing rounds recently and which you are surely fed up with already.

I’m rather talking about his overall experience in games of such magnitude. This includes many things, I’ll list some of them:

  1. Calming influence. Having a rock solid goalkeeper who you know can bail you out of trouble when push comes to shove is comforting. As opposed to having a certain fidgety Colombian who can GET you into trouble without extra help. Not only that, Cech is also great at organising the defense, which I’m sure will play a major part what with all that “backs-to-the-walls” stuff
  2. Unfazed by the occasion. Here’s someone who won’t get sent off in the first half because of a rash challenge *knocks on wood* Makes a nice change from, ahem, Szczesny. Pretty hard to play with 10 men against the best team in Europe for the greater part of the game
  3. Massive individual quality. Not only is Cech highly unlikely to make a silly mistake, he also can actually make (a) crucial save(s) from situations you wouldn’t normally expect a keeper to. It’s part of being experienced, but sometimes you just need that little bit of individual brilliance to make the difference. Cech has that

The overall quality of our squad is not to be sniffed at

Of course you’d wish to have a fully-fit squad at all times and in this sense the unavailability of Gabriel, Wilshere, Cazorla and even Rosicky is far from welcome. However if we need an ideal situation to beat teams and win stuff we may just pack things right now and go home because we’ll never have one.

4 injured is far from the end of the world and considering how little Wilshere and Rosicky have contributed for over a year now, their losses won’t be felt as much. Arsene has moved on from relying on either of them it seems, and no longer builds his teams in a hope of Jack and Tomas being fit and firing. In this sense we are much worse off without Santi Cazorla, who has been a mainstay for 3,5 years and even Gabriel, whose absence robs us of an opportunity to rotate centre-backs. In fact, I think Wenger initially planned for the Brazilian to start against Barca, that’s why he’s been giving him regular playing time at the beginning of February. But no use crying over spilt milk. Things like that happen in football and, indeed, I’d rather have Gabriel injured than Mertesacker for such a game. The German has a better understanding with Koscielny, it’s easier to accommodate him overall because Per has been a regular for the past 3,5 seasons and he’s also better suited to our probable game-plan (in my opinion, of course).

Not available

Not available

But apart from these 4? We can still put out a very strong squad, capable of delivering the goods. We are even spoilt for choice in attack, because, amazingly, all 6 of our forwards are fit. If you look at the team of Cech – Bellerin – Mert – Kos – Monreal – Coq – Ramsey – Ozil – Oxlade – Alexis – Giroud and think you’ll get an easy ride, well… you haven’t been paying attention.

We are the underdogs

No one (apart from Arsenal fans, and even then not all of them) thinks we stand a chance against Barcelona. Not just on aggregate, at home too. I haven’t looked at the odds, but I doubt highly the bookmakers favour Arsenal to get a win in London. A draw maybe, but not a win.

And this suits me down to the ground. There is no pressure on players, no weight of expectation. For once we are not going into the game as favourites.

Pressure is the hardest thing to deal with in competitive football. Not experiencing this pressure leads to footballers being able to express themselves freely and without fear. You need to look no further than Leicester to know what I mean.

Also if you, like me, have been regularly watching Arsenal for at least a couple so seasons, you know the Gunners are no exception to this rule. Not that we have never delivered with the pressure on, but we have undoubtedly exceeded expectations when the said pressure was off. Tuesday is going to be one of these relatively rare occasions when the weight of expectation will not be on us.

Also, look at it from the eyes of the Barcelona players. You are the favourites. You are on a good run. You have a good head-to-head record against Arsenal, despite not having won away from home. Arsenal, on the other hand, are pretty inconsistent, even in the immediate lead-up to the game. The Spanish press don’t give the Gunners a chance (obviously you more or less know what the press’ view is).

Arsenal written off by Spanish Press

Arsenal written off by Spanish Press

All of this can lead to two things. The first is dealing with the favourites’ status and becoming burdened with the weight of expectation. Which leads to not performing up to your usual standard. The second is complacency. You underestimate the opponent. You drop your guard. Even if only a bit. Partially. Result? The quality of your performance drops.

Sounds familiar? Of course it does. We’ve been in this situation ourselves quite a few times. We’ve suffered from both problems. Now the roles are reversed. Let’s see how Barcelona fares in this situation.

The verdict

We wanted to stay in the Champions League so badly before the Olympiacos game. What has changed since then? We’ve drawn Barcelona? So what? If we are ever to stand a chance of winning the Champions League we should beat the best. Facing the best is only a matter of time. You can’t shit-house your way to the final, all the while playing inferior opposition, mostly because there is no inferior opposition after the group stages, as we have found out to our cost last year.

Those “fans” who are harping on about how we should just play second-string players against Barca because “we don’t stand a chance anyway and will be better off focusing on the league”:

  1. Are not real fans. Real fans would never want their team to lose on purpose
  2. Don’t get the point of playing in the Champions League
  3. Were probably giving the same shit before the Olympiacos game, though their reasoning was different. In my view, if you change your reasoning to suit your agenda, well, you are a hypocrite. Kindly stay away from my Club

To wrap it all up I’ll say this: no one is invincible, not unless he was a part of Arsene’s 2003/04 team. Barcelona, however mighty, have their weaknesses. Now it’s only a matter of identifying and correctly exploiting these weaknesses.

Come on you Gunners.

Back with a review

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