It was a night to remember at the Emirates as Arsenal defeated Barcelona for the first time ever, with goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin cancelling out the lone goal from David Villa. The Gunners showed the fight and hunger necessary to defeat the Spanish giants and were rewarded for their endeavour as they take that slender advantage to the Nou Camp.
The Barcelona players stressed that they were the better team on the night though the result did not reflect that but did accept that their profligacy in front of goal had let Arsenal off the hook. Pep Guardiola’s team were the better team for 60 minutes in which time they scored through Villa and also managed to create many more chances.
Lionel Messi was amongst the chief culprits on the night, missing a host of chances which was uncharacteristic of the Argentine wizard. But the Argentina International will try his best to make amends and reproduce that scintillating performance against the Gunners one year back.
Messi is a player capable of producing the magic, capable of bewitching the best defenders in the world. He will be required to be at his best to ensure that the Blaugrana do not suffer an early exit from the tournament. Laurent Koscielny had his best game of his Arsenal career against Barcelona and will again need to be at his best in order to shackle the brilliance of Messi.
During the course of this one year between the last two meetings, much of the controversy involving the two teams has been about the future of Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. The Catalan club tried its best to bring back its former youth player, but Arsene Wenger and Arsenal stood firm in confirming that the player was not for sale.
The saga did damage the relationship between the clubs and the signing of Barcelona youth player Jon Miquel Toral just before the first leg added spice to the tie. Fabregas returns to his home in Spain but with an aim to defeat his former club. Though many critics have questioned his commitment to the Gunners, he has always put in his best efforts for the club, which has helped him develop into a world class player.
The Spanish midfielder was not at his best against Barcelona in the first leg, but he did create spaces for his teammates, and his vision helped Arsenal produce good attacking play though they had less possession. His pass to find Nasri, which led to the second goal, was very important and his presence on the pitch will be enormous for the Gunners.
His return to the Nou Camp will be emotional personally. Being the professional that he is, however, he will look to perform for the Gunners in a manner which will make the Blaugrana all the more interested to take him back. He is expected to replace the excellent Xavi Hernandez when the Spanish legend retires.
However, Xavi has been as consistent as ever and his influence on the game will be a key factor for Barcelona. The Spanish maestro will spray passes all over the pitch and link all the attacking riches of their team with beautiful passes. He is the chief creator for the team and Arsenal will need to stop his regular supply of through balls to the forward line.
The trio of Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi play in triangles which are impossible to break down but it is likely that Busquets might have to play the role of a centre back due to the absence of two regular centre backs, Gerard Pique through suspension and Carles Puyol through injury.
The Barcelona backline will be relatively weak for the game as opposed to their first choice defence and Arsenal’s attacking talents including the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Samir Nasri will try to take full advantage of that. But the player who made the difference in the first leg and could again have a huge role to play is Robin van Persie who stunned Victor Valdes by scoring from an extraordinary angle.
Van Persie was expected to be out till the beginning of April for sure, and even the most optimistic of supporters would not have been expecting him to feature in this game. It has been the shock inclusion of Van Persie, however, that has given the Gunners a huge boost ahead of this game after their draw against Sunderland. The Dutchman’s presence is bound to provide confidence to the Gunners and he has the ability to conjure brilliant goals from nothing.
Though Messi and Fabregas will be the names around which most of the discussions revolve, they must have the support from all the other players, especially Xavi Hernandez and Robin van Persie, respectively. This is a game which will feature some of the best talents in the world and it will be 90 minutes of intriguing action which will separate the winners.
The stadium will be completely filled, and the vibe that they generate will also be important for the Blaugrana. It is all set for the game to begin and let us hope for an exciting match between two of the most positive teams in the world.
This article is also featured on The Invincible Gunners, a blog on Arsenal