Revenge for the lost final, the return of the prodigal sons, 90 minutes of “pure” football, Arsenal stepping out of the shadows, Arsenal proving their credentials, Cesc fighting for fitness, Pep loves Arsenal, Wenger loves Barcelona, OMG OK I GET IT… there are a lot of angles to today’s match and for once the press are covering them all in a mostly positive light.
It’s actually kind of nice to have every newspaper in England covering every angle of an Arsenal match and saying positive things about the team and the matchup. But it’s also a bit jangling on my nerves, after all, the press love to set you up high so that they can knock you down and no matter who wins this fascinating 180 minute tie the loser will be pilloried.
Me? I think we can beat Barcelona but if they edge us then there’s no shame in that. They are widely considered the best team in the world and losing to the best is never shameful. Well, unless you’re one of the doom and gloom merchants who call themselves Arsenal fans.
But there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful, after all we match up very well to Barcelona. Here, let me break it down for you.
Keeper — Advantage Barcelona
I’m not getting into this thing where we rip Almunia, let’s just give them the advantage and move on.
Central Defense — Draw
The only two players who are certain for today are Tarzan and the Verminator. Now, if you’re like me and you take your advice from Martin Keown then the two are very equally matched. Where Barca might have an advantage there in experience, Arsenal have the advantage in speed and youth. So, between those two, I see very little advantage for either team — except in offence, where Thomas Vermaelen is a legitimate goal scoring threat. He will be getting forward on corners and looking to score on his smaller counterparts.
What will ultimately decide this category is who will pair up with Tarzan or the Verminator. For Arsenal it’s one of Gallas or Sol Campbell and for Barca it’s Pique or Milito. In Milito, Barcelona will be giving up a lot of size and that could prove a huge boon to Arsenal’s bigger players like Bendtner and Diaby. If it’s Pique then they have their strongest defense and they could frustrate Arsenal on set plays.
For Arsenal, Sol is a massive defender but there are questions about his ability to keep up with the slippery Messi. Gallas would be better at keeping up with Messi, if he’s 100% healthy.
So, like I said, it’s a draw.
Full Backs — Advantage Arsenal
I’ve heard a lot about how good Dani Alves is and I’m here to tell you, both of our fullbacks are as good if not better. Plus, we have depth in right back and can bring on Emanuel Eboue if more attack is needed.
Maxwell is a bit of a threat at left back but again, we’ve got Gael Clichy and I’m confident that if Arsenal defend as a unit Clichy will not be exposed. Remember that hungry, pressing defense we played in the first half of the season.
Yeah, we need that and then we’ll have an advantage here.
Midfield — Draw
In a sense, much hinges on who plays here. If Cesc plays and we can move Nasri up front then it’s a huge advantage for Arsenal. Toure and Song are basically equals and Diaby is much better in attack than Busquets (though Busquets is a better defender) so that leaves Cesc v. Xavi in the midfield maestro role and I wouldn’t be an Arsenal fan if I didn’t pick Jesus!
If Nasri or Rosicky play there then you have to give an advantage to Xavi, but don’t forget… Nasri scores amazingly great goals so the advantage is very slim.
Forwards — Advantage Barcelona
Messi, best player in the world. Pretty much all that’s needed to be said, but I would like to add just one thing… Arshavin has made noises about wanting to play for Barcelona in the past and it would be nice if he really stepped up and canceled Messi out with a masterful performance.
From what I can tell, Arshavin has been resting the last couple of weeks so he should be bright eyed and bushy tailed for this match.
Manager — Advantage Arsenal
Pep Guardiola has won, but he’s won with an embarrassment of riches in a two team league which basically allows him to rest his players for the season and keep them ready for the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has been slogging out a decent record over the last 4 years while trying to rebuild Arsenal on a budget. He’s done this in the toughest, fastest, most barbaric league (how many broken legs have Barcelona suffered in the last 4 years?) in the world playing against top teams who’s owners can pay any salary on top of eye popping transfer fees to gather the best talent in the world on their team.
Not only that, but Wenger’s been doing this at the top level for many, many more years than Guardiola. He’s got a bench that includes Eboue, Rosicky, Eduardo, and many more who can come in and make an impact. Hell, we may even have Cesc on the bench!
So, you see we match up very well against Barcelona and given our similarity in both styles and footballing philosophy, it’s going to be a great match. The match is going to be live on Fox Soccer Channel here in the States and kick off is going to be somewhere around 11:45am PST.
Unfortunately, I have to watch it on tape delay because I have a meeting at 1pm — so, you won’t be hearing from me after about 10am this morning. See you all after the match on either Twitter or here.
Don’t despair, it’s going to be a great game!