Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Visit to the Camp Nou: Barcelona vs. Arsenal

In the first leg of this titanic Champions' League Round of 16 clash, the Gunners of London came back from 0-1 to a 2-1 victory over Barcelona with late goals from Robin Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin. It was one of the biggest upsets in recent time, with the injury-prone Arsenal defeating the “greatest club in the world”. 

A few days after that match, Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona had this to say, “It was a shame because we felt we were superior to Arsenal.” Yeah, whatever Xavi, that doesn't change the fact that you lost. Now, on Tuesday the 8th of March, Arsenal will be visiting the Camp Nou to defend their lead. For Barcelona, Puyol and Xavi will be returning from injuries to face the Gunners, but their other main central defender, Gerard Pique, will be suspended, earning another yellow card in the previous match. However, for Arsenal, the injuries are taking their toll. Robin Van Persie has been ruled out with a knee injury, Theo Walcott with a sprained ankle, and Alex Song looks to be sidelined for the match also. Taking the place of Van Persie will most likely be Nicklas Bendtner, who recently scored a hat-trick in Arsenal's 5-0 victory over Leyton Orient. Arshavin will most likely take Theo Walcott's role on the wing, hoping to add more goals to the winner at the Emirates Stadium.

In the Champions' League quarter-finals last year, Barcelona defeated Arsenal 4-1 with a spectacular performance from Leonel Messi, who put all 4 of the Catalan's goals in the back of the net. He will be looking to repeat that fantastic display, but to do so, he will definitely have to improve on his display at the Emirates. His first touches and ball control weren't up to his normal standard, but he did put the through ball in from which David Villa scored Barca's only goal. To contain the little Argentinian, Laurent Koscielny, who faces much criticism from many pundits, will have to play how he did in London, winning many tackles, intercepting passes, and being confident in the air. After their defeat to Arsenal, Barca's league form took a slight dip, winning with a late goal from Messi at home to Atletico Madrid, and the same situation being repeated away at Valencia. However, Arsenal's defeat in the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham will certainly not help their mentality, with the late error from Laurent Koscielny and keeper Wojciech Szczesny causing their defeat. 

Key Points for Arsenal:
Playing through Jack Wilshere: The young Brit has been in great form recently, with the 19 year old being voted Man-of-the-Match in the last match, outclassing the likes of captain Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Following in his captain's footsteps, Wilshere can play quick, clever passes, and doesn't buckle under pressure, taking in the lime-light. He'll be hoping to repeat the feat, and earn Arsenal a win.
Not Trying to catch Barca in Offsides: Arsene Wenger continued his philosophy of his defense playing a high offside line, and Barcelona easily caught the defense out numerous times, even scoring a goal by tricking the offside trap.
Help Szczesny and Koscielny Bounce Back: As a team, the players at Arsenal should be helping these two to regain their confidence after their huge mistake in mis-communication in the Carling Cup Final.

Key Points for Barcelona:
Getting Off of Their High Horse: Even after the loss, the arrogant confident Xavi and co. continued to believe that they completely dominated the game and deserved to win. I know that everyone calls them the best team in the world, but there is a certain point where you say to yourself, “We should take them seriously.” It seems though that Barca's players and fans can't do this, and will most likely go into the match predicting a 6-0 win.
Stop Being so Angry about Fabregas: Arsenal bought him when he was 16. You let him go, and then he turned into a star. They should shut up, and stop trying to buy him. They're 425 million Euros in debt. If Arsenal does manage to go through, expect the small group of Gunners supporters at the Nou Camp to be singing, “We've Got Cesc Fabregas! We've got Cesc Fabregas!” I know this doesn't have much to do with the match, but I felt it was a good time to say it.

My Prediction: Barcelona 3-2 Arsenal (Aggregate 4-4*)
Arsenal will battle hard, but it won't be enough to keep of the Catalans. But, I still believe that Arsenal does have a chance of going through on away goals, or, even winning the match. It will be a monumental task however. What do you guys think will be the outcome?

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