Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Barcelona are in town. Can Arsenal handle them?

As if it will have much impact on the game, Samir Nasri is reported to be available for tonight's Arsenal clash with Barcelona in London. The Gunners' most exciting player has been injured for a while and his form may have suffered the time off lag. Alex Song, Theo Walcott and a revitalised Andre Arshavin will be key.

Feelings aside, Arsenal are second rate to Barca. They play a swift passing game that is less penetrative. They are often mistakenly likened to Barcelona in their style. The difference is huge. Barcelona keep possession for longer awaiting the moment to dissect the defence. The always probe looking for an opportunity for an element of surprise to slice open the central channel.

The Gunners patiently hold onto the ball well but in a blunt way. Teams that get themselves frustrated and try to win the ball back quickly usually leave their back exposed for Walcott to race for goal. For a change this season, Theo can either finish or play a weighted pass.

Given both scenarios, Barca may fall into the hype and craze that equate Arsenal to them and then start to panic. They may push a lot higher up the field and Walcott may expose them badly. They have proved they are beatable and their recent draw will spur Arsene Wenger's grown up kidsnet. Carles Puyol is a workaholic with less pace. The main man is Gerard Pique. He is the defensive brains of Barca.

The English title aspirants have 2 huge problems to deal with; the artistry of Messi and the porousness of their defence. This is the worst concoction one can have. The Argentinian magician drifts way back to be tracked down full time. A worse problem is that he approaches the defences in full flight in war cry fashion. The ball just sticks at his feet. Wenger will have to assign Djouru to monitor his movements closely in his radar.

Unless Arsenal can produce a Spurs-like performance, and put the Iniesta and Xavi combination under surveillance, the best they can get is a draw at home. The memories of the damage Messi caused the last time around will haunt them in the return leg at the Nou Camp. The fact that an ordinary Spurs team overpowered European giants, AC Milan, parading Nesta,­ Serdoff and Gattusso, Robinho and Ibrahimovic, will give the Gunners hope and inspiration. They will draw strength on the fact that anything is possible.

Arsenal will need to be at their very best to match Barca. Defeat may even dent the domestic title hopes for the English side as moral may take deep. I will putting my money at the end of 90 minutes on this one.