On December 17th, as the two stern-looking men picked out the names of teams that would face each other in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Gunners fans all over the world collectively groaned as it became known that Arsenal would need to produce the goods in Europe next against the formidable FC Barcelona.
Wow, really, FC Barcelona? The same FC Barcelona that boasts of magicians like Iniesta, Villa, Xavi, and of course, Messi, in its squad?
The same Barcelona that has not one, not two, but three players nominated for the Balon D’Or?
The same Barcelona that just beat the living daylights out of a not-bad-at-all Real Madrid squad in the El Classico?
Even the most optimistic of Gunners fans (yours truly being one) would have to admit that Arsenal is in for two very long nights at The Emirates Stadium and The Camp Nou.
Don’t get me wrong, despite opinions to the contrary, Arsenal have the talent, the flair, and on a good day, the sheer strength of will to duke it out with Barcelona mano-e-mano. But let’s face it, these days the Catalans, whose legions of fanboys apparently include the entire nation of Qatar, seem to be on a different planet altogether.
It is as if Pep Guardiola and his team are playing the game the way they want to, with an imperious nonchalance which suggests that they simply disregard the fact that another team with 11 players happens to exist on the pitch at the same time that they do.
As much as I love the Gunners, I know that they will put up a tough fight and will go down with their pride intact (Side note: If Arsenal defies destiny and actually manages to win this one, I promise I will name my first kid Arsene…. even if it’s a girl).
"My reaction is very simple—difficult but possible," Arsene Wenger says on the Arsenal website about knocking out Barcelona.
When he says "difficult but possible," frankly "The Professor" is not just talking about the two games against the Spanish champions. He’s talking in a much broader sense about proving to the world that the footballing philosophy he has followed for the last few years is actually capable of producing results.
As is the lore in North London, "Wenger Knows." Wenger surely knows that this season might just be his best chance of winning trophies in quite some time.
So let’s see, the possible scenario for Arsenal in the middle of March could be: Knocked out of the Champions League, in one of the top four very tightly separated positions in the Premiere League, in the middle-rung rounds of the FA Cup, and quite possibly, the winners of the Carling Cup. You know what, after five years of trophy-less misery, I’ll take it.
Whether the Gunners fans like this or not, the fact of the matter is that today, Arsenal are just not good enough to be the Champions of Europe.
But think about this tantalizing prospect: Chelsea, Man United, Man City and even (it pains my heart to even type this) Tottenham slugging it out with quality teams in Europe while Arsenal only have the Premier League to worry about.
A young, talented squad that plays less games will be less likely to find it’s key players injured during crucial games. A team that has Fabergas, Van Persie and Ashravin going at it in full flow with none of the looming distractions of European football is a genuinely lethal force to be reckoned with.
Now that’s something that makes my spine tingle. So let the other English teams chase away at the elusive prizes in Europe. They simply are not good enough to go all the way and injuries in Europe will take their toll on the results of their domestic games as well.
So that’s why drawing Barcelona is not the end of the world. If that happens, events will be set in motion that will surely bring the Barclay’s Premiere League trophy to Arsenal.
Tears of joy will flow at Islington Square and five years of pain will end in an instant. So all said and done, if the price Arsenal has to pay for this is to lose to the best team in the world in the Champions League Round of 16, then that’s not such a bad thing, is it?