Ok then, a difficult game lies ahead and it’s a difficult game to preview too. The precarious scoreline, the quality of the opposition, and the ability of this team to be fantastic one game, poor the next makes it something of a challenge.
Starting with team news and there was a big surprise yesterday when Robin van Persie traveled to Spain as part of the squad. Arsene says:
We are 19 here in the squad. Whether Van Persie will be included has not been decided yet. He has made quick progress in the last three days. We made a test and it was quite positive. We will see how he responds to that and I will make a decision tomorrow morning.
From a diagnosis of ‘at least’ three weeks, which had many speculating he’d be out for longer, to back in contention within days is something of a novelty when it comes to Robin. I can only assume they’re being cautious and sensible because regardless of how important tonight’s game is there’s the league run-in for which his presence is much more necessary. The manager has taken risks on players before in big games and I don’t think it’s ever worked out, so I just hope that everything is being done by the book.
Obviously his fitness would be a real boost and would provide us with a more cutting edge up front. Barcelona are without Puyol and Pique, their two first choice centre-halves. It seems Abidal and Busquets will play there, with Mascherano coming into midfield, so while it’s still strong there is, perhaps, a softer spot there than there might normally have been. I’m going to make the assumption that he’ll be fit enough for the bench but won’t start so I think we’ll see:
Wojscez©® – Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy – Wilshere – Diaby – Cesc – Arshavin – Nasri – Chamakh
The two decisions he has to make are who to play instead of Song and I think Diaby will get the nod there. He was poor against Sunderland but I think himself and Wilshere have worked quite well together in the past. The only other option is Denilson and he’s a man so low on confidence and form that playing him tonight is almost unthinkable.
Up front the decision is Chamakh or Bendtner, assuming Robin won’t start, and I just have a feeling he’ll go for the Moroccan because of his ability to better hold up the ball. The Dane gives us more from an attacking point of view but what’s crucial tonight is that when we get the ball we keep it for a bit. Barcelona are going to have periods of sustained possession and pressure, as they do in every game, and Chamakh might give us a more solid outlet. This also takes into account the fact we don’t have to score.
That said, I think we’ll need to score to progress tonight. We have a lead which can be wiped out in an instant and with the away goal for Barcelona it puts them in a winning position. We’re not a team for whom defending is our strong point anyway, so making the most of the opportunities that come our way will be massively important. Arsene says:
Is it realistic to go there to try to play a 0-0 from the first minute on? First of all it would be considerably against our nature and even tactically I don’t think it is defendable. We have not a team with 11 defenders who are happy to defend. It is a little bit of an illusion to go to Barcelona and think they will not score at all. So you have to think we want to score at least a goal.
Somewhat lost in the celebration of the first leg was the fact that during the first half Barcelona opened us up a number of times and had a goal disallowed for a fairly dubious offside. From a defensive point of view there’s a huge amount of work to be done from every Arsenal player. As much as Barcelona’s brilliance on the ball is a danger, any lack of effort and workrate on our part will be punished by players who constantly look to exploit that in all areas of the pitch. If they sniff a weakness they’ll go for it and they’re good enough to make the most of it too. There’s a big onus on Diaby and Arshavin to ensure they provide the team with qualities that don’t come naturally to them.
In as much as we have to be good defensively so will Barcelona. We’ve got players who can hurt them and players capable of scoring goals. Nasri, Arshavin, van Persie (if fit), Bendtner scored at the Camp Nou last season, Chamakh can trouble them if the service is right, and not forgetting the captain who returns after injury. A goal tonight would put him into double figures for the season and he provides the ability to create as well. Much has been made of his ‘return’ to Barcelona, he missed the game last season, but in typical fashion he’s playing down any personal significance, saying:
I don’t put anything extra in my head because I play against Barcelona in the Nou Camp. It is a special game for everyone because it is a special stadium and we play against a good team. That’s it. It’s one more game that we want to win. I don’t like people talking about what I feel. Only I know what I feel. I want to do my best for Arsenal, and that is it.
Just the attitude required and I have no doubt about his ability to lead this team tonight. We take the pitch knowing that if we score first Barcelona need three to win the game. That’s why trying to be as solid as possible is so important but also, when we do get the ball, we can’t be as careless and sloppy with it as we have in recent games. It’s much easier to get it back against Sunderland than it is against Barcelona. We need to be as efficient as possible and that means doing things easily and simply when necessary. There’s no need to go at 100mph, just take our time and remember that we’re a team that is capable of keeping possession for long periods too.
Beyond that what can you say? It promises to be a hugely exciting night of football. Two teams who love to attack, whose weaknesses are at the back, playing in a magnificent setting, I don’t think we’re going to get a boring 0-0 whatever happens. Even f things are difficult for us, and I expect they will be, there’s no need to panic. We’ve finished both games at home more strongly than they did, while last season’s Messi extravaganza meant it didn’t matter in the return leg. If it’s tight though, and if it’s still in the balance in the last final quarter of the game, I think that might just play on their minds.
Two goals in the last 20 mins at the Grove last season, two goals in the last 15 a couple of weeks ago. We’ve shown we can go the distance, let’s hope we can do that again tonight. Come on Arsenal.
And remember, if you’re stuck in work later on, or you can’t find a TV, there’ll be full live blog coverage of the game from about 7pm onwards. As soon as we get team news basically. And if you fancy a flutter tonight check out the Arsenal Odds page which has a range of markets from a range of bookies, providing you the best odds from each one.
It’s gonna be a slow day, I think. Can’t wait for this now. Catch you later.