First of all, neither the story idea nor the headline are the offspring of my creativity. As a Featured Columnist you are required to do assignments, well this was mine. Still, I had the choice to turn it down but chose not to. I think I can do a fairly good job without being über-partisan. But I assume the majority of Gooners will take offense to my little exercise in writing anyway. I guess I can’t please all. Not that I have ever intended to please anyone.
When the announcement was mas made that FC Barcelona have once again picked Arsenal as a Champions League opponent, there was an equal mixture of enthusiasm and pessimism – on the part of the Arsenal faithful. Last year’s quarter-final clash between these sides was an utterly one-sided affair, with FC Barcelona advancing to the semi-finals at the expense of the Gunners. One player in particular set the stage alight, Lionel Messi.
While most Gooners accepted the defeat, some argued that the Blaugrana’s victory would not have been attainable if not for the absence of key personnel like Robin Van Persie. Well, didn’t FC Barcelona win the 2009 Champions League without their first-choice defense? Compared to some of the other European heavyweights, Barca’s squad is relatively thin but even this depleted team managed to achieve some remarkable feats.
Personally, I wouldn’t have picked such a drastic and daring headline for my article but I do believe that Barca will emerge as the victors from this match-up. Let me explain why I am so confident in a Blaugrana victory.
Barca’s first choice starting-XI is second to none. The backbone of this team is comprised of seven (!) automatic starters for Spain – all World Cup winners. The big-game temper of these players is beyond reproach. There isn’t a grander and more intense stage than the World Cup. Add some South-American flavor in form of Lionel Messi & Dani Alves into the mix and the finished end-product is lethal.
What do all these guys have in common? They know how to grind out results and win championships. Unlike Arsenal players who themselves admitted suffer from “big-game anxiety” this Barca squad consists of proven winners. Of course, a couple of weeks ago Arsenal have torn boogeyman team Chelsea apart– but so did some others. The Blues are in the worst spell of form ever since Roman Abramovich took over the club.
Granted, the Gunners have bolstered their attacking department with the shrewd acquisition of Marouane Chamakh, who boasts a fine scoring-record with Arsenal. But so did FC Barcelona. The Blaugrana freed themselves of the massive (both financially and on a personal level) burden that goes by the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Barca took a huge gamble on the volatile Swede but in the end it didn’t pay off.
Though Ibra appears to be the perfect no. 9 for Barcelona, largely due to his fine technique and strength, his demeanor and to a lesser extend his immobility is not. It might be an impossible undertaking but Ibrahimovic actually made Barca play worse, or to be more precise, slowed down the slick passing-game of the team. The whole Zlatan Ibrahimovic operation has been a complete disaster. Not to mention a massive financial loss.
But the higher-ups at Barcelona and Pep Guardiola in particular have learned their lesson and signed the player they should’ve a year earlier, David Villa.
In all of world-football there aren’t too many upgrades on Barca legend Samuel Eto’o but David Villa certainly is one of them. Although it took him a little while to find his (goal-scoring) rhythm he appears to have finally broke his duck. Unlike Ibrahimovic he is fully adapted to the Blaugrana’s philosophy, having played with the majority of his Barca teammates in the Spanish national team.
Strictly speaking, David Villa plays as a left-winger but then again, Barca’ forwards interchange their position so often over the course of a game that it doesn’t matter. Which is something, Ibrahimovic could’ve never accomplished given his huge frame. If anything Barca improved their overall gameplay with the simple acquisition of David Villa. This Barca team is scoring goals for fun. In December they annihilated Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, who were unbeaten at this point, with a 5-0 score line.
Given Arsenal’s defensive frailties and admitted “big-game anxiety” I don’t think the Gunners will achieve a victory against Pep’s men. Nevertheless, I expect them to score a goal or two since it’ll be a very open game, a feast for football fans all over the world.
Fun fact: FC Barcelona have never lost a game when Puyol and Pique played together.