When the draw for the Round of 16 was held a couple of months back, Barcelona were the last team Arsenal would have wanted to draw. The Gunners finished second in their Champions League group behind Bayern and had to meet a non-English group winner in the Round of 16. Atletico Madrid, Wolfsburg and Zenit were all preferable choices for Arsenal fans, but the footballing gods instead rewarded (or punished, as Arsenal fans would say!) them with a tie against defending champions Barcelona.
The Catalan giants are on a 32 game unbeaten streak ( yes THIRTY TWO), and have managed to open an eight point lead at the top of La Liga. In these 32 games, Barca have scored 104 times (nearly 3.25 a game), and have conceded only nineteen goals (just 0.6 per game)
Their striking triumvirate of Messi, Suarez and Neymar are racking up goals for fun, and it will be a massive test for Arsenal’s back four of Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Monreal.
Barcelona’s strikers enjoying themselves- see this cheeky penalty against Celta
The first leg is at the Emirates, which means Arsenal have the chance of striking first. They can definitely beat the big teams at the Emirates- a classic example was their 2-0 Champions League win over Bayern earlier in the season. Bayern are now coached by Pep Guardiola, but the latter’s imprints can still be seen on the current Barca team despite his departure from the Nou Camp.
Highlights from Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Emirates
Coquelin and Ramsey need to boss things for Arsenal in the middle of the park. The Gunners can also rely on their height advantage and trouble Barcelona at set pieces- the priceless Welbeck goal against Leicester came from one!
Arsenal recent form
Arsenal 0-0 Hull
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester
Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal 2-1 Burnley
Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea
Barcelona recent form
Las Palmas 1-2 Barcelona
Sporting Gijon 1-3 Barcelona
Barcelona 6-1 Celta Vigo
Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
Levante 0-2 Barcelona
Barcelona 7-0 Valencia
Arsenal are still very much in the running for the Premiership title and have a crunch game against old foes Manchester United coming up after the Barca clash. It’s not ideal with Wenger, with the prospect of a Cup replay against Hull also having to be factored in, and he must marshall his resources well.
Barcelona have the wood over the Gunners in Europe. They knocked Wenger’s side out of the competition in both 2010 and 2011 and denied them silverware in the final back in 2006. In both these clashes, Arsenal were competitive at the Emirates (they drew 2-2 in 2010 and won 2-1 in 2011), but were blown apart at the Nou Camp.
It’s a mental game too- Wenger will have to make his boys believe that they can beat the Catalans, however difficult it may appear on paper.
The bookies also believe that Wenger’s side are massive underdogs for this clash. Betfred, for example, have Arsenal quoted at 4/1 (stake of 10 will get you 50). If you think those odds are backable, enjoy a promotion code here and have a punt at earning 50 quid (or more!)
Nothing is impossible, but Arsenal’s confidence and title campaigns would get a massive boost if they can get past the defending champions. Easier said than done though- they’ll have to play the perfect game defensively and attack well on the counter.
We’ll be in for a footballing treat though
Arsenal v Barcelona
First Leg | Emirates Stadium 23 February, 2016