Should the unthinkable happen and United go on to win the PL, what will we say? I will tell you, we will say that the best team in England are not the Champions, because without any question this Arsenal team are the best in the country. 4 points behind but 5 years ahead in terms of footballing ability. If any team in Europe can beat an in-form Barcelona it is an in-form Arsenal.
And you doubters, think on this – last season we went to the Nou Camp level after 90 minutes. True, we got steam-rollered in the first half at THOF but more than held our own in the second. Then we went to Barca without … Cesc, Gallas, RvP, Arshavin and Song. Take the 5 most influential players out of the Barca team and see how well they do against a full strength Arsenal. And let us not forget, we scored first. That night we had Silvestre playing at CB, Eastmond, Merida, Campbell and Traore on the bench!!.
But what do we hear? We hear that AFC received a football lesson in Spain. Well, tonight Barca will be playing almost our first XI, and I expect things to be different. Had Nasri been fully-fit, Sagna and Vermælen available we could compare like with like, as it is we will have to beat them with Eboue.
The loss of Sagna (a dreadful decision from a dreadful referee) may well prove costly. I have made my opinion clear about Eboue, he is not good enough, and I fear for him tonight. Defensive discipline is a must and unfortunately our Ivorian has lapses of concentration. I would love for Eboue to prove me wrong but if I was Guardiola, I would target him. The combination of Messi and Alves cause trouble for the very best – both Eboue and Walcott will need total concentration.
What a mouth-watering battle we have in midfield tonight. The emergence of Wilshere has propelled Fabregas to a higher level. Who needs Iniesta and Xavi when we have two players who are as good and are a combined 15 years younger? Song has become the Premiership’s best defensive midfielder with the ability to create as well as tackle. And then there is Nasri, our will o’ the wisp, a man who can bamboozle any defence. Should he not play, Arshavin is returning to his devastating best and will be hungry to show the world that he remains World class. We know that Busquets is a fine player – he forced Yaya out of Barca – but Jack will have him running and tackling air. Will Mascherano or Keita play? We know all about Mascherano, a super player and well used to playing Arsenal. I hope he is on the bench!
Then there is the form of our attack. Both Van Persie and Walcott are in fine fettle. Robin is in the best form of his life and looks unplayable, whereas Walcott has already shown Barca that his pace can and will cause them problems. An ageing Abidal should be targeted by both Nasri and Walcott, he remains a fine player but has lost a yard of pace, and by playing down the left we will force Pedro to stay and cover.
No defence can realistically stop Messi, Villa, Pedro etc. but the central pairing of Djourou and Koscielny are developing into a fine unit. They have pace and power and neither seems to panic under pressure. Djourou in particular has been a revelation – we all know that the 2 points gifted to Newcastle were as a direct result of JD leaving the field. Barca defend from the front with the strikers working the defence and stopping an easy out-ball, thankfully both JD and Kos are comfortable with the ball at their feet. Clichy will have to be alert and contribute to a secure defensive performance.
What a night for Szczezny! Still using stabilisers on his bicycle and yet playing against what is being heralded as the best football team of all-time. How will he cope? Indications are that he will be calmness personified, but who knows? It is a huge test. Fabianski wilted under pressure in the Champions League and it took him a year to recover. It’s testament to the Other Pole in Goal that there is no talk about our goalkeeping frailties.
Bench: Almunia Bendnter Denilson Squillaci Arshavin/Nasri Rosicky Gibbs
What makes this game such an exciting prospect is that we are playing a team like ours, a team that has one way of playing – quick on-the-ground football, fast feet and faster imaginations, elegance and brilliance allied with pace and power …. proper entertaining football. It is easy to wax lyrical about Barca, their demolition of Real Madrid was the stuff of legend and will live long in the memory. They are fantastic in every position and have (possibly) for the first time ever, the top 3 players in the world playing in the same team, in fact Barca have 6 players in the World Team of the Year.
There has been much defeatist talk over the ‘net about the prudence of losing to Barca and concentrating on the League. Many say that the Champions League may be a step too far, and that the prospect of fighting on four fronts is asking too much of our young team. Nay, Nay, thrice Nay and absolutely not, this is a hugely important game in the ascent of our team to World Domination. We have to show the world we have the nuts to go on and win a major trophy, and if we can win one, why not four?
This is one of those nights when I am gutted to live 1000 kms from the Grove. Tonight the team need their 12th man and it is up to each and every one of you lucky people who have tickets to roar the lads onto victory. No lapses, just 90 lung-bursting and throat rasping minutes of vocal encouragement.
Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners
Written by Big Raddy