Arsenal have the most difficult assignment of all as they attempt to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in six years, as holders Barcelona visit the Emirates Stadium for the first leg of their last 16 tie.
While there may be every reason to be a little daunted by the task ahead of them, the Gunners will be delighted to even be at this stage, having needed a terrific performance and a 3-0 victory away to Greek champions Olympiakos in order to make it through their group. During that shaky start to this season’s competition they faced another one of the main front-runners in Bayern Munich, where a counter-attacking style paid off at home, but an uncoordinated defence was horribly exposed when the two sides met in Germany.
However, no amount of preparation is enough against this Barcelona team, invariably. There is a reasonable argument to suggest that they are the best club side European football has ever seen, such is the ability of the stunning front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, who have them on course for a second straight La Liga title after recent wins over Celta Vigo and Las Palmas. Suarez in particular has been in stunning form this season to reaffirm his status as one of the world’s very best, having 42 goals to his name already in all competitions.
The objective for Arsenal here will be to soak up the inevitable pressure they will come under from the first whistle and to try and remain compact amid what will be a dominance of possession from Barcelona, but in reality they will also need to be clinical at the other end and take any chances which may come their way. Taking a lead into the second leg at the Nou Camp appears to be essential if they are to stand any realistic chance of upsetting the odds and making the last eight.
This match will be a massive test for holding midfielder Francis Coquelin, who will be desperately needed to shield the back four as efficiently as possible and not allow Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace to be exposed. An early goal against may set the tone for a very long evening and will be almost disastrous to the Londoners’ hopes. In attack, they will rely on the double act of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud to link up successfully, while Alexis Sanchez will relish the occasion of playing against the club he left in the summer of 2014.
The current situation Arsenal find themselves in is good in all fronts, but a bad night here could affect them psychologically, so they must do their best to be competitive and draw on the immense quality that they too possess. Barcelona are a simply exceptional side and will take some stopping, but if they can contain the front three to an extent they may just have the slightest of chances.
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