The world would be a much poorer place without coffee, you know. And football. Thankfully we have plenty of both.
Barcelona arrive in London today. They’ve turned down the chance to train at the Grove tonight, choosing to have a session (training, not pints) in Barcelona this morning before arriving as late as UEFA rules allow. Quite why, I don’t know, but I don’t suppose it’s as if our stadium or set-up is any kind of mystery to them after last season. If they feel more comfortable at home then that’s all well and good. I believe they’re staying the luxury Pembury Hotel on the Seven Sisters Road and will use the park opposite to have a kick around on the morning of the game.
One of the things that could happen with these two games is that focus could shift from the football to all other stuff that’s gone on between the clubs, particularly in the last 12 months or so. Our old friend Joan Laporta is trying to stir things up, accusing Arsenal of ‘fishing‘ for youngsters like we were some kind of footballing Jonathan King. I realise there’s a lot of ill-feeling, particularly at last season’s campaign to lure Cesc back to his old club, but it’d be a shame if that were to take the focus away from the football, in my opinion.
If it helps create a better atmosphere in the stadium, then great, but there’s really no need to pick at all the old scabs again. It was tiresome back then and now that things have calmed down again it’d be just as tiresome to open it all up again. So, as I think we all know what kind of suggestion I would make to Laporta, how often he could do it to himself and what the outcome of repeating this action would be, I’m going to leave it there.
In terms of the football Barcelona are wary of Theo Walcott. None other than Lionel Messi says:
I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against. Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us. Theo came on and changed the game. He pretty much single-handedly salvaged a draw that night.
It was his introduction and combination with Nicklas Bendtner that got us back into the game, as he recalls:
I think I surprised Maxwell, came up behind him and tucked it away. That inspired us to get the result we wanted and I want to be doing that from the starting line-up now.
Maxwell, which really does sound like a dog’s name, I’m sorry, will be at left back again tomorrow night. Injury to Carles Puyol means Abidal will play centre-half meaning the Brazilian will face Theo again. He’ll know he’s going to be up against serious pace and it’s important that Arsenal try and exploit that. Give him something to worry about early on and it could affect the rest of his night.
Up front the centre-halves will face Robin van Persie who is in the middle (or somewhere near the start, with any luck) of his best scoring streak for the club. Arsene Wenger says it’s the slow re-introduction that has paid dividends:
I believe at the start we used him well, not rushing him back, and seeing him getting to his best – and now he is at his best.
While Marouane Chamakh reckons he’s ‘walking on water’ at the moment. Robin has always taken time to find form when returning from injury but when he gets going you can see why the manager suggests he has the potential to be as good as the top strikers in world football. It’s never been his talent that’s let him down, only his body. We have to hope that, for once, he gets a good run without another knack, knock, strain, tear, snap or break. If he does then our chances of winning something this season increase.
The other factor is his relative freshness. Having missed a chunk of the season he’s not feeling the strain of the first half, unlike Chamakh as he points out in the link above. The Morrocan has gone off the boil in the last few weeks, no doubt about it, but it shouldn’t be forgotten what an effort he made when van Persie and Bendtner were out injured. He led the line, scored goals and was not allowed any kind of gradual introduction into English football. If he’s feeling a bit spent, having not had the winter break he’s accustomed to, then fair enough. We know have the options to let him recharge his batteries. He’s still got a big part to play this season, I reckon.
Back to the Barcelona game and Samir Nasri will have the second of two fitness tests at the training ground this morning. The manager says he’s ‘desperate’ to play, which is understandable, but we have to exercise caution. He might well be desperate but he’d be gutted if he took a chance, came back too soon and missed the other big, big games we’ve got coming up. Not least of which the Carling Cup final and the second leg of this tie at the Camp Nou.
I know players are their own worst enemies at times, I remember van Persie saying in the past that he’d done himself no favours by assuring the medical staff he was ready to play when he wasn’t, so I hope Nasri is sensible and 100% honest with himself even if it means some short term disappointment. We’ll have fuller team news tomorrow in the match preview and after today’s press conferences.
Some Spanish flavour? Why not. Some of the headlines in the Barcelona friendly press:
Watch out Barca! Florentino will travel to London for Cesc … and Bale! – Sport issues a warning in their main headline. Even on the eve of a huge game the transfer tittle-tattle wins out.
Van Persie, the pupil of Bergkamp – Sport point to Robin as a big threat to Barcelona.
Pedro: We have to go out like last year – Sport, The Barcelona forward talks about their quick start at the Grove last time.
87% of the Arsenal squad is foreign – El Mundo Deportivo point out that only 3 of the Arsenal squad are English and say that Theo Walcott has a Barbados passport.
The Nou Camp is Wall Street for Wenger – El Mundo Deportivo suggest that Arsene has done very well out of Barcelona, selling them players whose performances have subsequently been ‘paltry’. They reckon Barcelona have paid for a quarter of the Grove such has been the value of the players we’ve sold them. Hahaha.
Anyway, just a hint of the build up from other there. They’re still bitter at that Overmars/Petit deal. heh. Anyway, that’s about that for today.
A more detailed match preview tomorrow before we spend the day biting nails and the rest waiting for kick-off. Until then.