It goes without saying that when Arsenal face Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, they will need to produce a better performance than the one that saw them draw 0-0 with Championship side Hull City in the FA Cup on Saturday.
The Gunners would have hoped to go into the Barca game with some momentum—instead, they are left pondering over a worryingly blunt attacking display.
It was a disappointing result for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, Arsene Wenger would have anticipated a victory—historically, he has an outstanding record against lower-league opposition (Arsenal have only lost once to a team outside the top flight in the FA Cup under Wenger, per the Telegraph). However, it’s also bad news to see a replay inserted into what is already a very hectic schedule.
What will bother him most is the way Arsenal failed to capitalise upon their dominance and score. Arsenal’s defenders will understandably point to two strong penalty claims, but the failure to create clear-cut chances is the reason they failed to win this game.
This kind of performance is not anomalous in 2016. Since the turn of the year, Arsenal have also drawn blanks against Stoke City, Chelsea and Southampton. Speaking to the team's official site, Wenger opined:
The frustration is that we didn’t score and it’s not what we wanted, to have a replay, but between that and going out, we choose the replay. I am happy for the replay [as opposed to going out]. We need to be more efficient in the final third, because today we had more than 70 per cent possession and we will not have that on Tuesday night. That means we’ll have to be more efficient with much less of the ball.
He’s right. Arsenal can not expect to control the Barcelona match in the same way they did against Hull. Barcelona are arguably the best possession-based team in world football, so despite being the home side, the Gunners may even be forced to play on the counter.
They showed they could do that effectively earlier this season, but it requires their decision-making to be far better. If Arsenal get a chance against Barcelona, they can barely afford to waste it.
There will be plenty of changes to the team for Tuesday night, but there were still some worrying signs in this Hull game. For one thing, Arsenal will have to hope for a dramatic improvement from Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean came on for a cameo that was nothing short of baffling.
Since returning from injury a few weeks ago, he has looked a shadow of his real self. Hopefully the visit of his former club can spark him into life. If Arsenal’s counter-attacking strategy is going to succeed, his performance is likely to be key.
As Wenger pointed out, this result does not represent the same sort of disaster as actual elimination. If Arsenal are to be positive, they may have to take this as a warning sign. Against Hull, Arsenal learned lessons that could serve them well against Barcelona. The question now is whether they are capable of putting them into practice.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.
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