Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Barca...

Viewed objectively, this is a cracker of a tie.

From the perspective of cynical Arsenal supporter, the excitement is replaced by trepidation.

Barca can struggle at times against English opposition, but Arsenal can not produce a performance like Chelsea in 05, Liverpool in 07, or United in 08. They won't do it. There is no evidence to support the prospect of Arsenal suffocating Barca, playing a tactically astute defensive game. And if Arsenal try to do that, chances are they will fail miserably.

So it seems we have to outscore them.

While they haven't been as spectacular in attack this season, Barca have only conceded sixteen league goals. Arsenal? Thirty-three.

This may seem strange. Victor Valdes is no Almunia, but he's certainly no Iker Casillas either. Carles Puyol has always looked a player whose reputation far exceeds his ability, more of a Catalonian cult hero than a genuinely solid defender. They also have full backs who can look suspect. But the fact is Barcelona defend better as a team than Arsenal do.

Arsenal's only games against opposition of that calibre this season have ended in comprehensive defeat. Last season was largely a similar story.

Ultimately, it is a team with a better goalkeeper, a better defence, a better midfield, and a better attack. On paper. When you say "on paper", the implication is usually that tactics, motivation, or some other such factor can have a say. Arsenal should be highly motivated, and theoretically I'd always say that a success-starved team should be at least as hungry as the holders of the trophy. But those were the roles against United last season, and frankly the boys were borderline disgraceful over those two games. I'd love to say I think Wenger can come up with some kind of new trick, a way of bridging the gap in quality, but it has never really been his style to tailor a game plan with the opposition in mind.

Look, it's gonna be Messi against Campbell. Xavi and Iniesta will look to play in that massive hole that often exists between our overworked defence and midfield. Arsenal will need to produce two performances the like of which they have not mustered for a long while to even have a chance. I genuinely believe that. It's not that Barcelona are some kind of super-team, although their recent exploits suggest they're pretty close- it's that Arsenal are simply not the kind of team that can show up their weaknesses.

But the single biggest worry for me, bigger than the mullering that may await, is that Fabregas may really see a battering from Barca as the final straw for him at Arsenal.

Still, let's end on a positive note. This is one tie that surely won't revolve around anti-football, or negative tactics. To many idealists, it should represent a glimpse of a footballing Utopia that will never truly exist, an oasis in the desert of cynicism that is the modern game.

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