Exactly a year ago, we were here in the same competition and exited Nou Camp and the competition after being handed a footballing lesson by Barcelona. This year and this season, we are still in the same competition facing the same team but with a slightly different scenario this time around.
For one, we do not have win this game to qualify. In Champions League knockout round, a scoring home draw in the first leg is equivalent to a loss. Last season, we had to go in search of the goal to cancel out the 2 away goals which Barcelona had. This time around, we have a goal lead from the first leg.
The math is simple. Hold out Barcelona for 90 minutes and we are through to the next round. Much easier said than done. We are going up against the best team in the world with the best set of attackers that compliment each other. I can’t see how we can keep them at bay for the entire game. Barcelona will score and that is something which we must consider.
Given the players that are in Arsene Wenger’s disposal, we do not have the capacity or the belief that we can prevent Barca from scoring. Which is why the tactics that Wenger set out must be spot on. That we have to cautious not to be overrun but also with the idea of putting one in at the other end.
The longer the game goes on without a goal, the more the game will open up to us. Barca would start to get desperate and pour more men forward. This does not mean likewise for us. Even if this case come to reality, we simply could not forgo our defensive duties and attack all out. The defensive discipline must be kept at all times and look to find the openings when Barca try to force the issue more.
For two, we are bringing a much different squad compared to that which played here last season. We are still faced by numerous injury issues. No one can argue that the absence of Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Song can be detrimental. Both are our better defensive players and we could certainly use their service in a game like this. Yet, in so many other ways we will have a stronger eleven out than last season.
Cesc Fabregas and surprisingly, Robin Van Persie has both been included in the squad to face Barca. The captain and vice-captain of the Arsenal Football Club. Two players who played in the World Cup final, 2 players who will bring stability and leadership to the team. With RvP in the side, we have a real threat going forward. His movement and intelligence always brings out the best in others, if not himself. He is still in a very rich vein of goalscoring form, lest we all forget. However, it would be foolish to expect miracles out of him. RvP is 4 weeks ahead of schedule in his recovery from his latest injury setback.
As for Fabregas, this will ultimately be some sort of a homecoming for him. He missed the same fixture last season and this will be the first time he has ever played in the front of his legion of fans in the Nou Camp in a competitive senior match. He will be emotional but he is more than professional enough to handle the occasion. His intelligence and his ability to pick out the right pass is the reason why we must remain positive about tonight.
Last but not least, for three, Arsenal had another year of experience. I don’t like to harp on this fact too much but we cannot hide behind the fact that the average age of our squad is 23 – 24 years of age. Granted, many of them have hit a few milestones in the number of first team games that they have played. Last season, many of them were overawed by the occasion and suffered as a consequence. With another year of playing together, it is interesting to see how far they have matured, both physically and mentally.
Here’s what I’m going to say about tonight. We do not go into this battle without a hinge of optimism. We do not go into this battle already admitting defeat. We have to announce that Arsenal has come of age. We may ultimately lose the game or even go out of the tie but I would like to see another mega effort from the players. Come On You Gunners!!!!