A meeting between two of the best footballing sides in the world, a mouthwatering match-up so let our guest writers talk you through it. In the red corner is award winning writer Sian Ranscombe her blog “From a girl who loves the Gunners” is superb. And she hopes her team can follow in her trophy winning ways.

Up until a few weeks ago, I think both neutrals and fans were largely assuming this tie would be a one-way battle won easily by Barcelona. Arsenal have been inconsistent this season and if they can drop points to West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, and let leads slip as easily as they have done, what chance do they stand against the mighty Barcelona?

Well actually, I think they have quite a good chance. Unlike last season, the team we have fit is very nearly the strongest team we have, with the exception of the formerly-unbreakable Thomas Vermaelen and the suspended Bacary Sagna. We held them to a draw at home last year, then lost the plot away at the Camp Nou – when we showed up with half a team. The absentees from then – Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Alex Song and Andrei Arshavin – are all expected to start at the Emirates on Wednesday night. Added to this, our questionable defence of last season has been strengthened by the return of Johan Djourou from long-term injury and the settling of Laurent Koscielny into English football.

Barcelona are still brilliant, of course, but they will be without captain Carles Puyol and also come into the match on the back of an unexpected 1-1 draw with Sporting Gijon at the weekend. I’m sure it will take more than that to bother them, but it’s a start. Anyway I think the main difference between last year’s encounter and this one’s is more to do with us than them. They were excellent; they’ve got better. We were poor and weakened; the team is now unrecognisable.

For all the talk of tactics and formations and blah blah blah, Arsenal last year looked like a team afraid of losing. In the first twenty minutes of the home leg, we barely had a touch of the ball and looked over-awed. I really hope that won’t be the case this time. Besides, they might have Messi, but we’ve got a little stunner of our very own in the shape of Jack Wilshere – and Jack ain’t afraid of anyone!

In spite of the vast majority of the press and fans telling my head otherwise, my heart says we can do it. And if we do… well, it’s about flippin’ time!

Everyone enjoys watching Barcelona…don’t they. The grace in movement, the free flowing football – it is a joy to behold let Eric Beard from A Football Report weigh up the Blaugrana’s chances and the possibility of some tired legs.

Xavi’s a romantic. Wenger’s a romantic. The air of the romantic has now taken over Tuesday’s match.

Maybe describing Barcelona as the football equivalent to Plato’s “Form of the Good” is a bit much, but that’s more or less expressing the general consensus from the blogosphere mixed with El Mundo Deportivo. Arsenal, despite a similar style and a developed philosophy, are not the best team in the world. So even with 60,000 wearing red at the Emirates, the Arsenal has to assume the role of the underdog.

No matter how good the trio of Alex Song, Jack Wilshere, and Cesc Fabregas is in the middle, it just is not on the same level as the Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. The same parallels can be drawn with Nasri, Van Persie, and Walcott/Arshavin and Messi, Pedro, and David Villa. Arsenal, though continuously taking strides forward to emulate the level of perfection the club’s divine “invincibles” once had, are facing a Barcelona side that are well versed in the art of dynamism. That is, the system Barcelona plays in allows every single player to come completely into fruition.

The romance? Well, Arsenal and Barcelona are far from the counterculture of massive football clubs, but their good faith commitment to their ideals also removes them from the boardrooms that seem to entangle every other ‘big’ club. Just as the avant-garde “art for art’s sake” was corrupted by bourgeois, moneyed interests, so too has avant-garde football been corrupted by some of the richest and most unethical clubs in Europe.

But enough of these large, mysterious, even vacuous comparisons, let’s get down to predictions. If there was ever a time to play Barcelona, it would be this Thursday. Barcelona struggled in Gijon this past weekend, which surprised many. Tacticians will have their way with The Guardian’s chalkboards searching for explanations, but the truth is that Barcelona’s core may be tired. Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pique, Sergio, Dani Alves, and David Villa all played in the entirely pointless international fixtures on Wednesday, then had a match three days later. And now, just three days after Gijon, there’s Arsenal, who strolled to victory against Wolves.

Arsenal must win this match and I think they can given Barça’s fatigue. But Cesc’s trip home next month simply will be a different story. As romance sweeps my off my feet perhaps it is appropriate to draw to Latin to suggest Wenger’s dressing room speech. Everyone knows the phrase “carpe diem” (“seize the day”), but few know that it is followed by “quam minimum credula postero” (“trusting as little as possible in the future”). Barça can do anything and everything in Catalunya, so it’s quite literally now or never for Arsenal at the Emirates.

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2 comments

Femi Jacobs

February 16th, 2011

Please Wenger shouldnt play Diaby on this match o. Diaby is for the away match. To slow the ball down. We need to be fast on this ball and do the needful winning barca. am ergerly waiting for this clash.

February 17th, 2011

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scotzine, Natasha Henry, Scott Johnston, Andrew Gibney, Andrew Gibney and others. Andrew Gibney said: Champs League Previews by @SianyMacalarny @erbeard @StuartJHarper and @dominicvieira here http://bit.ly/fTZ3Qr and here http://bit.ly/hiL57S [...]

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