CL Preview: Barça – Arsenal, Tuesday 2:45pm EST, Fox Soccer en Español/Fox Sports Affiliate
The list of who is not playing is particularly impressive. It’s the return leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League and it feels like a match no one wants to play. The fans are looking forward to it with absurd passion, but holy mackerel, there are so many injured or suspended players that you could make a world-beating side out of them. For us there’s Puyol and Pique both suspended while Ibra, Iniesta, Jeffren, and possibly Yaya are injured (Pique too, for that matter); for Arsenal, there’s William Gallas, Andriy Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas (also suspended), the long-term injury of Robin van Persie, and now Alex Song. That’s 10 players who would otherwise start all missing (maybe Gallas wouldn’t and maybe Yaya wouldn’t, but I think they would) along with a capable backup in Jeffren.
Because of that, my Excitement for this match is being jostled in the hallways of my mind by that big, jerkwad bully, Apprehension. I don’t like it when Excitement gets shoved into a locker after being given an atomic wedgie. It’s not that I’m not confident in our replacements, it’s that I hardly know what to expect, especially after this past weekend’s lineup included Maxwell in midfield, Chygrynskiy in the back, and a series of tiny people up front. And while I realize Chygnasty can’t play in the Champions League, I think that his inclusion alongside Pique in the weekend’s lineup means we’ll start a lineup that has had few reps together (Rafa and Gaby) and is thus probably more prone to mistakes in a match where mistakes will be punished severely.
I suppose this match is going to come down to strength of the benches available and because of that, the Liga title race will be heavily influenced by this as well. I’m not actually worried about our defense for el clásico, but rather our front line because without Ibra, we don’t have a truly world class striker. Sure, Bojan is in form at the moment, but he hasn’t proven himself in the Champions League against title contenders and Athletic Bilbao never really looked like they were trying that hard (if that criticism is being leveled at Racing Santander for their display against Real Madrid by the likes of the ever-so-unbiased Sport and Mundo Deportivo, then it should be leveled at Athletic Bilbao as well, though I think in the end both teams were simply played off the park–Racing looked good to score throughout the first half, in fact, while Bilbao didn’t). So can he produce against Arsenal? Can he find gaps between Campbell and Vermaelen? Ibra’s absence will be a huge sigh of relief for those two, who were constantly occupied by our giant Swedish Ninja during the first leg, but Bojan is nowhere near as big. He’s just far squirrellier.
So then, Alves returns to the lineup, we’ve got Abidal back, and Maxwell has been playing very well. Do we play the same system tomorrow as we did against Athletic, with Maxwell playing the Keita/Iniesta role? Or do we revert to what we know is a solid lineup with Keita roving box-to-box? Xavi will start, that’s for sure, and I’m assuming Busi will as well not just because Yaya may not make the lineup at all, but also because Guardiola favors him as the CB. I can’t say who Arsenal will start, but Nasri and Bendtner both started on the bench against Wolves this weekend and they only played 20 and 25 minutes, respectively.
The team that started against us at the Emirates was Almunia-Sagna-Gallas-Vermaelen-Clichy-Diaby-Song-Nasri-Fabregas-Arshavin-Bendtner. Italicized players are missing from tomorrow’s match. I don’t know what Wenger will do, but Denilson made a positive impact for them in midfield–if not a massive and wonderful impact, then certainly a greater impact than I would have foreseen–and Eboue’s introduction for Arshavin gave them a bit more width and backline cover. Obviously Walcott’s introduction was a huge factor for them, but I still see him as a second half sub rather than as a starter because I think he would run out of steam if put on from the start. What of Rosicky, however? According to Soccernet, he’s appeared in 28 EPL and CL matches for Arsenal this year (22 and 6, respectively). That’s a hefty number and so I think we might see him out there. Arseblog appears to agree with me at least up to a point, and thinks Wenger will field Almunia-Sagna-Song (Sol)-Vermaelen-Clichy-Diaby-Nasri-Denilson-Walcott-Bendtner-Rosicky/Eboue. I would think that instead of Walcott we’ll see both Eboue and Rosicky given the nod from the get-go, but obviously Arseblog knows more about Arsenal around than I do (the squad list wasn’t, I don’t think, out when the post saying Song would play was put up).
Of course, Campbell is a doubt as well according to Arsenal’s official site, which cites fatigue as the reason. The official site has released their squad list: Almunia, Fabianski, Bendtner, Eduardo, Diaby, Nasri, Denilson, Merida, Walcott, Eastmond, Rosicky, Traore, Eboue, Clichy, Sagna, Vermaelen, Campbell, Silvestre. Does that mean we’ll see Silvestre out there? I don’t know who to hope for more, Campbell or Silvestre. We’ll find out tomorrow, of course.
Our squad list is not out at the time of writing this, so I can’t be 100% sure that we’ll see particular players, but I do think that we’ll see Valdes, Alves, Marquez, Milito, Abidal, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Henry, Bojan, Messi. Perhaps Pedro! for Henry, but I think that Titi will be ready for this match after not playing against Bilbao. It won’t be as emotional and it won’t be something where he’s coming in to kill the clock as the 9. I don’t foresee Yaya starting and I don’t foresee Iniesta recovering in time to do anything other than ride the bench. Iniesta is, however, training with the group and that is a very good sign for the coming weekend. Yay.
UPDATE: Our squad list came out as I pushed publish on this guy: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Márquez, Milito, Fontàs, Abidal, Maxwell, Touré, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Jonathan, Keita, Jeffren, Bojan, Pedro, Henry, Messi. Iniesta, Yaya, and Jeffren are available. Whether they’ll play is a different question. Fontàs is also included, which is a surprise, but I suppose we needed CB/RB backup.
Now to the scenarios:
- Any victory by Arsenal and they are through
- Any victory by Barça and we are through
- A 2-2 draw and we go to extra time, then penalties
- A 0-0 or 1-1 draw and we are through
- a 3-3 draw or greater and they go through
It is unlikely that they will score 3 goals against us at home because no team has done so yet under Guardiola, but that doesn’t put it out of the realm of possibility. In fact, only 3 teams have scored 2 goals against us this season at home: Rubin Kazan (1-2), Atletico Madrid (5-2), and Mallorca (4-2)–it is very important to note that we lost that match against Rubin Kazan and the same thing could happen tomorrow. Not that it will because it won’t.
An early goal from us will cause them to come out to play all the more and I think that will allow us to further dominate the match. That is, of course, a huge undertaking. We’ll have to play how we’ve been playing the last two matches and put away our chances. If we miss anything from a half chance on down to a sitter that my mother would bury, we’ll probably pay for it with a Champions League season-ending loss to Arsenal. That means not allowing Almunia to make reaction saves like at the Emirates, but rather putting those shots out of his reach and into the net.
We also have to be aware that our wings are vulnerable to counterattacks. Abidal’s presence in the squad is huge, not because Maxwell is bad (he’s very good, in fact), but because Abidal is so much faster and that will help us to slow or even kill their counters. I don’t expect them to give the ball away as easily as they did at the Emirates, but I also don’t expect us to fall completely apart towards the end. That puts two speed demons on our wings, which means crosses rolling in all night, just like against Athletic. Jeffren got a tap in on the other side of the goal from the crosser and the ball never really left the ground, so you know there’s some good pace on those. A few of those and we’ll be golden.
Okay, yeah, so yeah. I’m done rambling now.
Official Prediction: 3-1. Call it over-confidence or whatever, but goals by Bojan (2) and Messi will seal this baby early and they’ll get a late one that vaguely rekindles their hope before it is dashed by the final whistle.
Time: This match will kick off at 8:45pm local/Barcelona time, 2:45pmEST/New York time. Check your local time here.
TV: This match will be on both Fox Sports en Español and your local Fox Sports Affiliate. Mine is MSG+. Feel free to list yours in the comments so everyone knows whether or not they get it.
Weather: ~57F (~14C), clear skies, 0% chance of rain. Perfect weather for a beautiful match.