Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Arsenal-Barcelona: Will It Work This Time Around ?


When the draw for the round of 16 fixtures in the UEFA Champions League , there were a few surprises.
 Many were surprised at the pairing of two supposedly weak sides, SL Benefica and Zenit St. Petersburg was the fixture that stood out by pitting two sides  in that category against each other. 

Some fixtures were also not so surprising given the history between some of the teams involved. Chelsea F.C vs PSG was bound to have a round 3 to settle the scores and the feeling of what could have been which some fans of the 2 prestigious clubs still harbor in them and discuss every now and then. 
But one fixture which  may play a very important role in defining the legacy of a manager who still divides public opinion even this late in his career. Loved by some and hated by some, the pedigree and ability of one individual has never received this much split opinion. 
Arsene Wenger, master tactician and decision maker at one point is also the most indecisive and naïve manager in other contexts . He has signed and developed so many young talents yet there is an equally long list of players whom he could have signed and developed over the course of his career.
This is where many of those who dislike him and don’t deem him as one of the game’s greatest point out. Cristiano Ronaldo , Lionel Messi , Zlatan Ibrahimovic and even Didier Drogba are players who he almost signed but pulled the plug on the deals at the eleventh hour due to some trivial and unnecessary issues. 
Many including myself believe he could have built a better legacy if he had had the same ruthless streak he demonstradted in his pursuit of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oezil earlier in his career . That argument will continue to divide opinion years after he has finally retired from the game he so loves.

It’s the 23rd of February and only some few hours away from the much hyped fixture. The Emirates Stadium in London will provide a fitting setting for the grand entrance of perhaps the greatest attacking force any sport has ever seen . The fabled MSN will have a chance to add the home of the gunners to their long list of conquered grounds. 

Many memes and jokes have been made regarding how Barcelona will rip apart the Londoners but I am of the view that even if Barca will qualify , the match won’t be as straight forward as many are predicting . 

The entire Barcelona team are playing some of the best football ever seen but there is this feeling inside me that refuses to completely rule out Arsenal . This won’t the first time Wenger is facing a Barca side at the peak of their powers . This won’t be the first time he would have prepared meticulously for the task at hand . Little has changed from the Barca sides that he has met in the past . 

It is essentially the same blueprint upon which the many Barca teams that Wenger has faced during his career  have been built . Though they may be more direct under Luis Enrique , it is still the same fluid and patient build up that has become so evident in all Barca sides . 

This Arsenal side however is different . This season has showed us that the Gunners are no longer afraid the drop deep and adopt the same “negative “ tactics that Wenger has continuously accused other teams of adopting against his side . 

The 2-0 win against Manchester City as well as the impressive performance against Bayern Munchen point out the fact that Wenger has somehow loosened his stance over the use of defensive football . The previous sides have never faced this sort of Arsenal and though I am in no way doubting the ability of the Blaugrana, I strongly believe Arsenal could pull of what many will regard as one of European football’s biggest upsets . The presence of Petr Cech who has foiled many Barca attack’s efforts over the years is now a member of the Arsenal set up and I believe this will add to the home advantage and give Arsenal the psychological edge over Barca. 
Alexis and Mesut also provide Wenger with fast outlets to aid their counter attack plan if and only if they adopt it and Cocquelin who isn’t given as much praise as he deserves will be an important piece no matter the plan Wenger will decide to use . No matter the result, Arsenal are the underdogs and history reminds us that teams with nothing to play for are the most deadly to face.

Come the end of the 90 minutes we will all know the outcome but I believe that all of us should give Arsenal more of a chance in this 2 legged tie.

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