UEFA Champions League Last 16: Arsenal vs. Barcelona Key Battles

Adi-Oula Sebastian@JubeiKibagameCorrespondent IIFebruary 15, 2011

UEFA Champions League Last 16: Arsenal vs. Barcelona Key Battles

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    Arsenal London vs. FC Barcelona: The Key Battles

    A little less than 48 hours to go and football enthusiasts all over the globe will be treated to the first real spectacle of 2011, Arsenal London will host FC Barcelona in the first knock-out round of the UEFA Champions League. While everyone agrees that this will be probably the most entertaining match of this round, it’s a game one rather would like to watch in the latter stages of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. Nevertheless, the game will start…soon.

    The Gunner will most likely want to avenge the defeat they suffered against Pep Guardiola’s Barca when those two sides last met. In last year’s fixture FC Barcelona defeated Arsenal London 6-3 on aggregate. Most pundits agreed that FC Barcelona’s first half performance against Arsenal London was one of the finest ever displayed, the final score, however, was not. Even though they dominated the match, FC Barcelona had to settle for a 2-2 draw.

    This time the Champions League encounter promises to be an even more entertaining draw. Robin Van Persie, who was utterly missed the last time these two European Heavyweights met, is firing on all cylinders while Lionel Messi, well, La Pulga is setting new standards having already bagged 40 goals in all competitions. Let’s analyze the key battles in this mouthwatering clash.

Robin Van Persie Vs. Gerard Pique

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    The Flying Dutchman is currently in irresistible form, having found the net 10 times in his last seven games. Although his ability has never been questioned, he is very injury-prone which kind of prevented his ascension to the very top of the game. In Gerard Pique he finds one of the most composed and elegant center backs around. At 23, the player nicknamed “Piquenbauer” is already considered to be one of the finest defenders around.

    Alongside Carles Puyol, Piquenbauer forms one of the best defensive partnerships in Europe. FC Barcelona currently has the best defensive records in all of Europe’s major leagues.

    For better or worse, Robin Van Persie is one of the most lethal left-footers in the game, but it’s also his major weakness. RvP just can’t strike the ball with his right-foot, when forced out wide right, he just becomes less effective.

    Winner: Gerard Pique

Jack Wilshere Vs. Sergio Busquets

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    The Arsenal youngster, who has grown in leaps and bounds ever since his very fruitful loan-spell at the Reebok, is a rare breed of English footballer, he’s technically gifted. To this day the English seem to distrust Joe Cole, and given his disastrous form one can’t argue with them. However, Jack Wilshere isn’t Joe Cole and Arsene Wenger has a fine track-record when it comes to developing youngsters, English not so much.

    Sergio Busquets, even though he has a plethora of critics, has proven himself to be an indispensable member of both, FC Barcelona and the Spanish National team. FC Barcelona’s style of play is based on possession, quick distribution of the ball and, when lost, an even quicker recovery.

    The former Barcelona B player excels in any of the aforementioned aspects. One hasn’t to look any further than FC Barcelona’s bench. Javier Mascherano, a world-class holding midfielder himself, is a mainstay due to the prowess of Sergio Busquets. He might not be physical intimidating but Sergio Busquets held his own against the best of them, Michael Essien and Martial Arts expert Nigel de Jong.

    Winner: Sergio Busquets

Cesc Fabregas Vs. Xavi

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    This is a not exactly a duel, but every play the two respective teams make runs through them. First things first, Cesc Fabregas is a world-class player no doubt about that BUT even though he is the superior goal-scorer, Xavi remains the superior passer. Among Europe’s top passers this season, four of them hail from Barcelona, the fifth is Bastian Schweinsteiger. Now guess who reigns supreme on that very list, you guessed right, Xavi.

    Cesc scores more goals than Xavi? Well, when your first choice forwards (Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro) are on track to exceed 20 goals; is there any need to chip in goals as well? As it stands, the MVP (Messi, Villa, Pedro) have already scored in excess of 70 goals, now that’s something.

    It is a safe assumption that FC Barcelona, once again, will monopolize possession in their encounter against Arsenal London. So the question is how good is Cesc Fabregas without the ball?

    Winner: Xavi

Alex Song/Abou Diaby Vs. Andres Iniesta

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    Better players have tried and failed miserably. Andres Iniesta is arguably the world’s best dribbler second only to Lionel Messi and, yes, ahead of Arjen Robben. This campaign he managed to stay injury free which is showing in the performances he displays week in and week out. El Illusionista is wreaking havoc against any opposition, especially when paired with his partner in crime, Xavi. Song and Diaby might be physical superior but they aren’t as quick as San Andres.

    Winner: Andres Iniesta

Arsenal Defense Vs. Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro

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    C’mon guys, do I really need to explain why the Gunners defense is no match for FC Barcelona forwards?

    The name is Villa, David Villa and he is perhaps Europe’s most complete center forward, although he nominally plays as a left-winger for FC Barcelona. Why nominally? Because Barca forwards interchange positions so often during a match it is hard to point out the real position of them. Unlike Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who netted a brace against Arsenal, perhaps his only goals he’ll ever score in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, David Villa is team player through and through.

    Furthermore, El Guaje is highly mobile, something that the immensely tall Ibrahimovic simply can’t be. The acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic slowed the Blaugrana down, much due to his need to do flicks and tricks when the more simple approach would’ve been more appropriate. Nevertheless, Pep Guardiola corrected his mistake and acquired the services of David Villa. With Villa Barca’s play is even more fluid and efficient as before, Barca is on course to smash the goal scoring record in La Liga.

    Every defender committed to stop Lionel Messi, is one less defender David Villa has to deal with. The partnership of Messi/Villa is one of the best in Europe, with Messi being the top provider for David Villa.

    One name that tends to be overlooked or barely being mentioned is Pedro. Perhaps it is quiet and humble demeanor but Pedro is on his way to become a world-beater if he isn’t already. In the last campaign he became the first player to score in all competitions in the same calendar year.

    Besides, he also outscored Ibrahimovic, albeit with one goal. Though Messi and Villa gravitate towards the box, Pedro stretches the game on both wings. His two-footedness comes quite handy when cutting in from either flank.

    Well and then there’s Messi. He tore apart, excuse me, he terrorized Arsenal’s defense when they last met, the final score? Lionel Messi 4 Arsenal London 1. During Pep Guardiola’s reign, if memory serves me correct, and the data from www.transfermarkt.de, Lionel Messi has only went once without scoring in three consecutive matches. La Pulga has already scored 40 goals this season, and with four months still to be played, it is not unrealistic to expect a 60-goal campaign.

    Winner: Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro

The Final Verdict

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    Arsenal London Vs. FC Barcelona

    Winner: The Fans!