The Emirates, London
March 31, 2010
Flashback: 17 May, 2006, Paris. Arsenal, disconcerted by their below par league performance, were raving about a Champions League performance, which saw them going ten consecutive matches without conceding a goal. Barcelona, on the other hand, were flying high after already becoming league champions and being bestowed with the title of ‘Best football team in the world’, with the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o donning the Blaugrana colors.
Though Arsenal had gone one up through a Sol Campbell header, the Catalans came back strongly, as an inspirational cameo by Swedish veteran Henrik Larsson saw the champions from Spain lifting the trophy, leaving the North Londoners disconsolate for one more time that season.
Four years later, the talismanic Gunner legend Thierry Henry, who currently runs his trade at Camp Nou, has reiterated the fact that he is not too keen on facing his former side in this cracking Champions League quarter-final. With or without the Frenchman, the Catalans travel to North London for a mouth-watering football extravaganza, teasingly termed as the ‘Beautiful Game Derby’.
With the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri, and club captain and play-maker Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal have a potent attacking force, and are ready for a mêlée of the attackers. Alexander Song and Abou Diaby will astutely patrol the area just in front of the defense, and provide utmost freedom to the offensive quartet also comprising of lanky in-form Dane striker Nicolas Bendtner. The back-line will be without the reliable William Gallas, but will have enough solidarity in Arsenal returnee Sol Campbell and the rock-solid Belgian Thomas Vermaelen. The French duo of Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are expected to perform full back duties, with the latter conferred with the onerous task of marking the hottest footballer on earth, Lionel Andres Messi.
Injury update: Cesc Fabregas is fighting against time to get fit for the crucial encounter, as a tackle on him severely bruised his knee, during the weekend match against Birmingham. Sol Campbell played the same match for 90 minutes, and Wenger will be hoping that the veteran is not cramped to play against Barcelona. William Gallas is an absentee with his long term ankle injury.
Suspension update: None.
Squad Update: If Cesc doesn’t make it to the key play-maker role, Samir Nasri is the most likely candidate to fill his boots, with Czech Captain Thomas Rosicky or Englishman Theo Walcott performing the right wing duties.
Predicted Line up:
Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
From Arsenal’s corner:
Arsenal will have to play out of their skins against the mighty Spanish outfit to keep their Champions League hopes alive, after they dropped crucial points in the league a few days back. Wenger might shuffle his squad a bit, with the dexterity of Eboue being introduced straightaway or at a later point of the match.
With the home crowd’s support and Wenger’s belief, TheHardTackle thinks Arsenal can pull off a narrow victory over the Catalans, making their work a little less complex for the Camp Nou return fixture.
The stakes are high, as FC Barcelona make their way to North London for an enthralling encounter with Arsenal FC. The memories of the 2006 final are yet to fade, and going by the level of football displayed by the two sides in that game, one can be assured of an absolute cracker of a match. Barcelona aren’t the same dominating force they were last season. While they still top the league along with Real Madrid, the performances haven’t always been convincing. They go into this game on the back of a stirring performance against Vfb Stuttgart, and Guardiola will be expecting more of the same from his boys against Arsenal as well. With Lionel Messi in inspirational form, anything is possible.
Injury Update: Andres Iniesta picked up a hamstring injury in the game against Mallorca and will not be on the plane to London. Gerard Pique is still recovering from a knee injury, which forced him to miss the games against Osasuna and Mallorca, but is expected to be fit for the clash. Eric Abidal has resumed training and has been included in the squad, but he will be a game time decision.
Squad Update: Seydou Keita will replace Andres Iniesta in the midfield, giving it a more solid look. Gabriel Milito will step in for Gerard Pique ,in case the latter does not recover in time.
Alves Puyol Pique Maxwell
From Barcelona’s Corner:
Seydou Keita made a simple yet intelligent comment during one of his interviews. He said, “We need to avoid losing and we need to score”. Guardiola will be happy with an away goal, and will look to Xavi and Keita to take control of the midfield. Seydou Keita and Sergio Busquets will have the difficult task of marking Cesc Fabregas, while Dani Alves will have to be at his best to neutralize the threat of Andrei Arshavin. The mid field battle holds the key, and both teams will look to settle down early and get the passing game going. Barcelona are most vulnerable at the start, and Arsenal will have to make the most of the initial period, if they want to put their Catalan counterparts on the backfoot. All in all, this will be a thrilling encounter.
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