Whilst I accept that Barcelona are the current champions and are an exceptional team, I think it would be very dangerous to write off Arsene Wenger and his men. Barcelona are currently second in La Liga and Arsenal are third in the Premier League. In theory and maybe, reality, there is very little to choose between the sides.
We all remember the ease with which Barcelona dismissed Manchester United in last season’s final, but let’s not forget that Chelsea were a matter of a few seconds and some appalling refereeing decisions away from knocking them out in the semi-final. Arsenal must treat Barcelona with a huge amount of respect, but they have no need to fear them at all.
Arsene Wenger told the BBC,
“We must be brave and go for it. What you want from your team is not to worry too much about the strengths of Barcelona and focus on our strengths. I do not deny their quality, but we are an exceptional team as well. I do not deny their quality. However the form of the day, the desire, the belief, how much we play for each other will make the difference. They are an individual and collective threat, but so are we. If we produce the best performance, then we can beat any side in the world.”
Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen continued the theme,
“We are not focussed on individuals, because we have to play our own game and play as a team. Messi is a very good player, one of the best players in the world. However, there will be no time to be intimidated. You do not have to be nervous or look at individual players. You have to be focused on your own performance and the team’s performance. If you want to win the Champions League, you have to beat the best teams.”
One of the interesting facets of tonight’s game is the prospect of Cesc Fabregas playing against the club where he began his young career and the club who, if you believe the press, are desperate to have him back. Unfortunately, it is doubtful whether that return will take place as Fabregas is struggling to recover from the leg injury picked up at Birmingham on Saturday. Wenger explained yesterday,
“We will give ourselves twenty-four hours more and we will assess the situation, but if the match were today, Cesc would not be able to play. If he is at full capacity on Wednesday, we will play him. The medical staff tell me there is still a chance he will be available, but that will be decided in the warm-up on the night. That tells you how late we will leave it. I would say it is 60% against, 40% for him playing. We have a squad of nineteen players so I have considered the possibility of leaving him out completely. We will give him twenty-four hours more, but I don’t know if he will be available. If he is not capable to play I would not even put him on the substitutes’ bench.”
Barcelona have their own issues in midfield and some would say that theirs is even more damaging. Andres Iniesta picked up a hamstring injury at Mallorca on Sunday and has been ruled out of the game. If Fabregas is one of the best midfielders in the world then so is Iniesta. Of course, Barcelona can boast the likes of Xavi, Messi and Ibrahimovic, but equally, the likes of Nasri and Arshavin are not exactly mugs.
I do expect Barcelona to come out on top over the two legs but I do not expect it to be easy. Arsenal play some scintillating football at times and they will have as much possession as Barcelona which will be an unusual position for the Catalan side to find themselves in. Arsenal’s problem can be turning that possession and great football into goals and that is why, in the end, I think Barcelona will win.
Make no mistake though, this game is a very long way from being a foregone conclusion for Barcelona.