Well here we are, less than 24 hours to our match up in the Camp Nou and it’s quite bizarre that we go into this game 2/1 to qualify. Now I know Barcelona are the best side in world football but it’s not like we are an average side, we are one of the top 5 in Europe. Even though the bookies tend to get it right more often than not but I’m quite positive we can qualify tomorrow night and that was before the fantastic news that Robin Van Persie has made a truly remarkable comeback to be included in the squad that travelled to Spain. We are coming off the back of a 2-1 win and for once questions have been asked of Barcelona.
It seems like a lifetime ago but there are a lot of positives to take from our last game. The main positive being the belief it has created amongst the squad. They know this side can be beaten and that is huge confidence boost to take into this game. Sometimes in football you can tell a side they are better than the opposition but sometimes they may not necessarily believe that to be the case. Look at last season when we played Barcelona, you can’t tell me any of the players actually believed we’d qualify going into the 2nd leg. That is definitely not the case and we go into this tie a lot stronger than last season. Another positive was Wenger showing ruthlessness with his subs, Arshavin for Song was fantastic tactical change and it swung the tie in our favour. That may have to happen again tomorrow but in the form of Robin Van Persie. Wenger also ensured Barcelona had minimal space to work in. They got chances but we got bodies between the ball and our goal and restricted them to 7 shots on goal. Wenger isn’t a master tactician but he’s definitely showing a willingness to adapt against quality opposition.
This fixture seems steeped in injuries and for the first time it may have impacted Barcelona more than us. We will obviously miss the pace of Walcott and defensive ability of Song but the news that RVP is fit is a huge boost. Our bench would have been lacking in creativity but RVP solves a lot of possible outcomes. Firstly, if we are to need a goal with 20 or 30 minutes to go his ability is there for all to see. If we are still ahead in the tie, then he can come on and hold the ball up better than Bendtner or Chamakh and give our attack a different dimension, much in the same way Arshavin influenced the first leg, it’s a win/win situation. Barcelona are missing the suspended Pique and injured Puyol. The heart of their defence is blown wide apart. Which should mean the likes of Maxwell and Alves may need to be a bit more apprehensive about when deciding to bomb forward. When you have changes enforced upon you like that it can upset a team’s rhythm and Barcelona are as fluent as they come and they are extremely solid. However their defence will have had limited time to practice together ahead of tomorrow’s game and that should see us create more than people believe. Wenger said before travelling "It will be very important for us to defend well because when you go to the most effective attacking team in the world, you want to have your bes defenders available". The same applies to Barcelona.
What a night this could be for WS53. He can put to bed any issues created a week last Sunday and this will be the true test of his character. A lot of people still think we need a top class but he seems to have a big future ahead of him and he will need to be on top form between the sticks tomorrow. Another big aspect of his game tomorrow that needs to be on form tomorrow will be his distribution. When we are under pressure and he gets the ball it’s imperative we don’t concede possession cheaply. At Newcastle recently, whilst under pressure for most of the half he kicked long balls towards Van Persie, who didn’t have a team mate within 30 yards most of the time and Newcastle regained possession. Against Barcelona we simply can’t afford to do that, so it’s important we make them work for possession. Getting Sagna and Clichy involved from the back is a must.
Our key player without a shadow of a doubt, Wenger says he’s 90% certain he’ll play, so that’s as good as an assurance as you’ll get from him that Cesc is starting. We are a totally different proposition with our skipper in the side. The bloke is a genius and a suspected midfield of Diaby, Wilshere and Fabregas is a lot better than the one of Rosicky, Denilson and Diaby that went there last season. Diaby and Wilshere will sit for most of the game if things stay in our favour and the roaming trio of Fabregas, Arshavin and Nasri will cause more than a few problems for Barcelona’s make shift defence.
I truly believe we’ll qualify tomorrow. In fact I’m convinced. That’s not to say I’m expecting and easy night because it’ll be edge of your seat stuff to the very end. As with all Champions League away games you need to score and it could be Barcelona’s undoing that they only managed to score 1 goal when they were massively on top in the 1st leg. Dare I say if we score 2 they need 4, which considering how Barcelona rip teams apart week after week, it’s something they haven’t achieved in 9 games and they were playing Almeria not Arsenal. I’m going for a 1-1 draw. If it is to be that close late on we need to ensure we’ve learnt from our appalling experiences in the past and close the game out and who knows we might even grab a very late winner!
So there you have it. Here’s to a great night and a team that finally learns from it's mistakes and comes of age before our very eyes. A place in the last 8 awaits and the confidence from progressing would be a great step forward for the rest of the campaign. Remember we got a draw there before, with 10 men too. Here’s a clip of the goal scorer that night, it’s bizarre to think he’s still playing.