CL Preview: Barcelona – Arsenal, Tuesday 2:45pm Fox Soccer Channel
It’s odd. What does the squad leave on the field this time around? Deixeming their pell didn’t actually work against Inter last year and unless they regrew it all by now (doubtful, given their strenuous schedule since) they’ll have to come up with something else anyway. Hair? Toenails? GQ photo shoots? And the Barcelona T-shirt printers are going to have to get crankin’ on these pretty soon if the whole stadium is going to understand what is at stake. We can only communicate in T-shirt form, you understand, so heaven help us if we’ve got to deixem those. Our inspirational leaders in the back–Puyol and Piqué–are out with an injury and yellow card suspension, respectively, so we’re going to have less hair and fewer photo shoots to leave on the field (sadly, Iniesta only contributes to the latter).
And Arsenal got both Fabregas and Robin van Persie back (pending late fitness tests), which makes the goal deficit all the harder to overcome. Sure, a 1-0 win gets us through, but who is going to bet against them scoring? They’re capable, especially on a good night, of scoring more than just the 1 away goal we put in on them. I think we’ll see a shootout of epic proportions based mainly on the fact that I want to see a shootout of epic proportions. It won’t be another Leo 4 – 1 Arsenal like last time, I can pretty much guarantee that. They’re about twice as good this year as they were last year and given their advantage from the first leg (slim as it may be) they’ll be all the harder to beat. I was overly optimistic in the first leg, apparently, going with a 1-3 prediction (and it was nearly 3-1!), but at the time it didn’t seem like such a ridiculous thought. On the back of two 1-0 wins (yes, they were wins, but they were wins that failed to completely convince), we’re as vulnerable as we’ve been in a long time and the absurd pressure to perform in the CL or see the season chalked up as a completely failure, could very bitter fruits come tomorrow evening.
Unless we suddenly turn on the style. Which we’re certainly capable of doing, but which we’ve labored to even attempt over the last month or so. The Barça that wows the world is currently taking a short breather, it would appear, but then again, they’re still winning matches and playing nothing but attacking football and my love for them is still very much like a truck, berserker (NSFW).
The accolades being tossed at Jack Wilshere are generally warranted: he was rather incredible in the first leg, but he’ll have to play equally well in the second leg and over the next 3 years before I put him in the same sentence as Xavi or even Fabregas (who has a ways to go himself before he’s up with Chameleon Eyes Bogart). Right now the aforementioned accolades are more like hand grenades that might or might not blow up in his face—he’s the next Maradona has never hurt anyone, right? [Note: I wrote that paragraph while disconnected from the internet and right as Guardiola’s comments became something of a point of contention; in light of that I could understand how someone might read the above paragraph as sarcastic, but it isn’t, it’s quite serious.]
It’s not as if this is the Alamo and they’re Santa Anna bearing down with a massively larger army. They’ve got 11, we’ve got 11 and they’ve got 1 extra goal. Whether or not that proves to be pivotal is obviously yet to be seen, but the fact that it’s 1 and not 2 like the Inter match is massively important to the approach. Barça can’t—and won’t—be scared to attack for fear of letting in an away goal. We did it last year and rebounded to crush them. Again, another Messi quadruple bagger is unlikely to the point of being dismissible, but the team is capable, on its night, of leaving most everyone in the dust.
And that’s what makes this second leg so exciting: it could go either way. Arsenal is unlikely to approach the match in any other way than how they went out at the Emirates simply because anything other than pressing high and trying to nab one on the break is suicide with their back line. A midfield with such talents as they have would be foolish to let Barça run at occasionally shaky defenders. Don’t get me wrong, Kolscielny was rather phenomenal in the first leg, but if you’re Wenger, do you look at him and go “he’ll stop Messi 1v1 every time” or do you give him an extra layer of protection against the little magicians who will be scampering hither and thither? I mean, I suppose you could opt for the former…
The key to the match, though, will be Pedro’s contributions as a front 3 destabilizer. If he’s on his game, he’ll be menacing every outlet pass and forcing Wilshere to drop deeper to collect the ball. Messi has an unreal workrate up front, but he hasn’t proven to be the jitterbug dervish, the Tazmanian devil if you will, that Pedro! can be when he’s earning his punctuation. Is it fatigue on his part that has decreased his harrying or is he trying to create too much before he gets the ball back a la Bojan? Overthinking is exactly what P! doesn’t do and regular old Pedro does; if he’s on fire tomorrow in front of the baying millions (okay, the bocadilla-munching thousands—get those deixem las bocadillas T-shirts printed!) you’ll see him appearing at random moments with the ball in a threatening position. Alves’ return could galvanize him as he’s capable of playing off that particular Brazilian a lot better than he is off of Adriano, but with Alves perhaps occupied a bit more by Arsenal’s forwards than he is by most teams, that particular wrinkle could be a moot point.
We’ve got Victor Valdes back, which is great, but the lack of Captain Catalan is going to be a much bigger deal. Pinto did admirably as a stand-in while Busi and Abidal in the middle of the field is a far cry from Pique and Puyol. I doubt we’ll ever say Busenbauer, for instance. As always, I much prefer Abidal on the wing than in the middle, but given Milito’s recent inclusion (and he did well enough) I’d say we will see Busi-Abidal. Or Jeffren-Thiago. I dunno. Guardiola so crazy.
Quickly, the possibilities:
- Any home win by 2 goals or more (2-0, 4-2, 34-1): Barça go through.
- 1-0 home win (2-2 aggregate): Barça go through on away goals.
- Any draw: Arsenal go through.
- Any home win by 1 goal that is not 1-0 (3-2, 4-3, 79-78 etc):
Official Prediction: 2-0. I don’t know, that’s just sort of a random scoreline. It depends on the moment on how I feel. Without Pique or Puyol, I’m simply not sure. And now that I know that Wilshire is the greatest player on earth (slash can’t get into our Juvenil B squad–Guardiola said that), maybe we’ll lose by 20. What I know is that I’d love to see a great game and I think that Arsenal, if they don’t park the bus (and why would they?) can give us just that. I want a good, clean game, all right gentlemen? No shanking people, Dani. At least not until after the match. Good. Go back to your corners, wait for the bell, and come out swinging. Or hugging. Whichever you prefer.