Barcelona v Arsenal Match Preview: Gunners in search of a miracle at the Camp Nou
Barcelona will be looking to end Arsenal’s Champions League campaign tonight at the Camp Nou in the second leg of their last 16 tie.
Barca lead the Gunners 2-0 after Lionel Messi’s late double in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium.
It was the fourth year in a row Arsenal have lost at home in the round of 16 first leg. Having previously lost against Bayern Munich (2013, 2014) and Monaco (2015).
Current form and the Champions League history between the sides suggests that Barcelona will complete the job and progress to the last eight of the competition.
When the draw was made Arsenal weren’t given much chance of progressing.
Arsenal haven’t reached the quarter-finals since 2010, and being drawn against the reigning champions and arguably the best club side in the world was never going to be easy.
When the draw was made the Gunners were well placed in the Premier League title race and were looking to win the FA Cup for a third successive year.
Going into tonight’s match Arsenal now trail Leicester City by eleven points in the title race, and exited the FA Cup to a committed but limited Watford side on Sunday.
Hardly the ideal preparation for tonight’s match.
The spotlight and pressure is on Arsene Wenger and the likely exit tonight will only intensify speculation about his future.
A capitulation along the lines of the 5-1 group stage thrashing to Bayern Munich will only increase the pressure.
It’s also an important night for the players to show that they have the fight and mental toughness to compete at this level.
History isn’t on Arsenal’s side.
The Gunners have never won at the Nou Camp and have never overturned a home first-leg defeat in European competition.
Aside from those losses to Bayern in both 2012/13 (1-3 home, 2-0 away) and 2013/14 (0-2 home, 1-1 away) and Monaco last season (1-3 home, 2-0 away), they have lost only one other such match, against VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1996/97 UEFA Cup first round; then they went down by the same 3-2 scoreline away from home.
Barcelona are on a run of nine straight home wins in the UEFA Champions League.
Their last home defeat in the competition was a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in May 2013, which has been their only defeat in the last 36 Champions League home matches, of which 29 have been victories.
Barcelona have overcome English opposition in Manchester City FC in the last 16 in each of the previous two campaigns – each time after winning the first leg in England.
Arsenal are facing a hat-trick of defeats against Barcelona who beat them previously in two-legged ties in the UEFA Champions League in 2010 and 2011.
It is ten years since Arsenal last won in Spain with a a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid n the 2005/06 round of 16. Thierry Henry scored the goal and the Gunners went on to lose 2-1 to Barcelona in the final played at the Stade de France in Paris.
“The scoreboard looks very good, but it will not change our approach nor our preparation,” he said. “The tie is open and we are still in a dangerous situation, conscious that we have to be serious if we want to go through. This game does not give us time to relax.”
In London, they pressured us up the field and I am convinced that they will do the same here,” he said. “They are a very direct team and have the capacity to make things difficult for us. They have a very good aerial game, especially with Giroud and Welbeck, and we will have to be careful if their second line moves forward.”
As of today the results are very good, but everything has to be confirmed,” he said. “Being where we are brings us closer to our overall objective of winning the same titles as last season, but to do it you have to be humble and have the capacity to improve in those aspects that influence the game. The team knows that no squad is perfect and you can always improve.
On the return of Alexis Sánchez to the Camp Nou, he said. “He is a quality player who is very physical and who has improved a lot. He is very difficult to stop and you have to keep an eye on him.”
“We are in a position where we need to score two or three goals,” he said. “That demands a very [clear charge].
We know that we need to attack and take the game to them.
Knowing that Barça’s magical players require maximum attention from our defence.
I felt that our approach [in the first leg] was not so bad. We lost our balance a bit just after half-time.
We got caught on the counter-attack at a moment where we looked to be on top of the game, so we are in a position where I don’t think we have to think too much.”
Barça are in a strong position, with 90 per cent probability of going through but football always leaves a small window open.”
Messi, Suárez and Neymar have scored 103 goals between them in all competitions for Barcelona this season.
Arsenal will be boosted by the return of Laurent Koscielny, but the continued absence of Petr Cech will seriously weaken an already fragile defence.
Team News/Possible lineups
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Mathieu, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets; Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Out: Rafinha (knee), Sandro (hamstring), Piqué (suspended)
Misses next match if booked: none
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerín, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny; Campbell, Özil, Sánchez; Giroud.
Out: Ramsey (hip), Čech (calf)
Misses next match if booked: Monreal, Özil, Campbell, Giroud
As always the heart says that Arsenal can get a result and somehow make it through to the last 8. If that happens it will be one of the great night’s. Realistically the result in London gives the Gunners too much to do and on current form is highly unlikely. A committed and disciplined performance from Arsenal should be the minimum requirement tonight. But a 2-0 win for Barca.