Arsenal’s next game is against Barcelona. I for one am glad that it’s finally here. Not only because it promises to be a great spectacle to watch but also because the match itself is hampering our other ambitions. Even if you tell yourself to concentrate on the immediate opponent, your mind unconsciously wonders off to think about Nou Camp.
Since the first leg encounter, we have not been in inspiring form. 2 draws, 2 wins and a losing the cup final. The idea of facing up to the almighty Barcelona has been preying on the minds of everyone, fans and players. It’s very easy to say that we are only concentrating against the next opponent but that doesn’t always work out to be the case.
To this end, it was slightly refreshing to see Arsene Wenger admitting to this. We could’ve easily been punished for our wondering minds. However, we were given another lifeline, this time by Liverpool. Their defeat of Manchester United puts the title outcome back into Arsenal hands. Things remained as it was prior to the weekend. Should we win all our remaining league matches, we’ll win the Premier League.
Not that the players didn’t try. Bumbling officials denied us goalscoring opportunities. A Titus Bramble admission now means nothing. The referee could not go back and change the result. We cannot replay the last 10 minutes beginning from the penalty. The officiating got no better on Sunday and many players/managers/clubs will look back at some of the decision with a tinge of frustration and anger.
The team news came out today and it looks like we’ll be missing the only true defensive midfielder that we have. Alex Song is confirmed to be out and that is never a good news, especially when we know that we would require to do a lot of defending tomorrow. On the flip side, we get Cesc Fabregas back.
Given a choice, I would rather the outcome to be the opposite. Before you sever my head and parade it around town, give my reasoning a chance. Do we trust Denilson, Diaby, Jack Wilshere or even Fabregas himself to be able to protect our backline the way Song manages? While I’m not saying that we should set out to be defensive tomorrow, it is not exactly rocket science to know that Barcelona will have more of the ball. Comparatively, Samir Nasri could do the Fabregas job. Depending on opinions, perhaps not within the same mould or quality but not altogether that much different.
But, every manager has to make do with the players that are available to him. Luckily enough, Wilshere is deemed fit enough to travel and should under no circumstances, be sitting on the bench at Nou Camp. It will be the most pressured atmosphere that he has ever played in but there’s no doubt that he can handle it on the pitch. Wilshere reckons that we have to hit them on the counter attack, something which is harder to do without the pace of Theo Walcott.
Apart from Nasri, only 2 other players in our current squad are better prospects to play if we choose to rely on counter attacks. They are Emmanuel Eboue and Abou Diaby. Controversial choices but it is their playing characteristics which we are basing on. To use that tactics, we need players who are capable of running 20-30 yards with the ball. Players who can dribble past a couple of opposition. Players who have slightly quicker foot than others. These 2 are no world-beaters but remain plausible options to support that tactics.
On the other side of the pitch, Barcelona will be missing their influential captain. Carles Puyol will join his normal defensive partner Gerard Pique on the terraces after failing to recover sufficiently from his injury. Hopes raised on our part due to their absences but lest we forget, they were also not playing in the 2nd leg last season.
Match preview tomorrow.