Arsenal vs. Barcelona: Nasri to be Fit But Arshavin is the X-Factor for Gunners

Vijay MuraliAnalyst IFebruary 13, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01:  Andrey Arshavin of Arsenal scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates Stadium on February 1, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

On Saturday, Arsenal cruised to a two goal victory over a struggling Wolverhampton side that included a brace from Robin van Persie, who has scored nine goals in his last five league games. It could have been much more, but Arsenal were not made to rue for those missed opportunities by the likes of Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Andrei Arshavin.

The Gunners will face the toughest match of their season so far on Wednesday when they take on mighty Barcelona, who have been quite impressive this season. Though Arsenal have been inconsistent this season, they have shown enough to justify that they have the armoury required to beat the Spanish giants should they play at their best. For that though, they need their most talented players to play to their potential to carve openings in the game.

Samir Nasri has undoubtedly been Arsenal's best player this season so far and Wenger's belief that he will have a chance to be fit for the match is a huge boost for the Gunners. However, it is better for the club that he is given enough time to recover completely from his injury so that he can be completely healthy for the title run-in. Wenger will be conscious of the number of players he lost in the months of February and March last season and will probably name Nasri among the substitutes.

This probably means that it will the creative Andrei Arshavin who will start the game on the left forming a forward line boasting the likes of Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott. The Gunners will need every one of the eleven players to have a good game in order to beat the Catalans, and that includes the inconsistent Andrei Arshavin to make his presence felt on the pitch.

The diminutive Russian has the quality to influence high profile games such as the one this week and Arsenal will be hoping that he will be at his best. He has been off-colour for most part of the season and has subsequently been benched in favour of England winger Theo Walcott. However, Samir Nasri's injury has provided him the opportunity to show his class for the Gunners and he has looked close to capturing his best form after an inspirational cameo off the bench against Everton.

He has encountered much criticism about his appalling work-rate in some games and if he does not work hard, Barcelona will be provided with a great opportunity to subject Gael Clichy to severe pressure from Pedro and Lionel Messi. Arshavin needs to be switched on throughout the game, and more importantly, he needs the support of fans at the Emirates who have treated him unfairly when he has had a poor game.

The playmaker has created more goals than any one else in the team despite performing well below his potential, something that shows the quality of the individual. The combo of Arshavin, Fabregas and Van Persie has wreaked havoc in recent games and if they can combine well again, Barcelona will have their hands full in stopping the trio, which allows other players including the likes of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere to exploit the spaces.

Arshavin, with his quality and experience, has shown beyond question that he is a player of the highest quality, and he has contributed immensely in many big games in his time with the Gunners. But if he can inspire the Gunners to emerge successful from the round of 16 tie against Barcelona, it will be his biggest achievement in his Arsenal career.

With less than 18 months on his contract, it is still questionable whether he will renew with Arsenal. Whatever happens with his contract negotiations, if he can help the Gunners emerge victorious from the battle, he will be remembered as the little magician who inspired Arsenal to a famous victory.


This article is also featured on The Invincible Gunners, a blog on Arsenal and other football news