Arsenal host Barcelona tonight fuelled by the belief that they can eliminate the European champions over the course of two legs that promise great entertainment and incredible drama.
The Gunners remain in the race to claim the Premier League crown, though their hopes of dethroning Manchester United and usurping Chelsea took a shot at the weekend as a bad Manuel Almunia error gifted Birmingham City a point on Saturday.
“Barcelona is a different competition and we have a few days to recover and prepare. But it felt like a defeat on Saturday,” manager Arsene Wenger told the club’s official website, having previously blamed the state of the St. Andrews pitch for his side’s failure to register three points.
“It is always hard to pick the players up when you get a result like that. We are on a run that is very difficult, where we know there is no room for error at all, so Saturday was a big disappointment for us.”
When Arsenal have been faced with crisis points in this campaign, they have generally responded well. Against the very best – Manchester United and Chelsea – they have failed to acquire a single league point, yet the Gunners remain a very real threat in the title race, while an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at Porto in the Champions League was brilliantly rescued with a terrific 5-0 response at the Emirates.
Having failed to defeat an elite side this season, questions will be raised over the ability of Wenger’s side to defeat la Blaugrana, who have become known as the best of the best over the last 18 months.
Compared to the all-conquering Barcelona side of last term, this season’s Barca have received a remarkable amount of criticism. With the increased competition from Real Madrid, Pep Guardiola’s side have been placed in the spotlight, and though they have consistently responded, they have rarely convinced.
Recent results have not seen the Blaugrana sweep away opposition in the manner they achieved last season, while their football has not always been as fluid and eye-catching. Their results, in La Primera Division at least, have been just as strong, while progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League has been achieved, albeit with a few scares along the way.
Stuttgart certainly gave Guardiola’s men a fright in the last 16. The Bundesliga outfit grabbed the lead in the first leg, though they were ultimately unable to match the power of the Catalans when forced to travel to Catalunya. Lionel Messi, as has been the case so often of late, was Barca’s inspiration behind a 4-0 second leg victory, and the little Argentine marvel will be the player Arsenal most closely need to police over the two legs.
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes has indicated that the Camp Nou outfit are feeling confident going into this fixture. “We are not going to play conservatively at the Emirates. Barcelona are capable of winning anywhere,” he asserted.
Only the second team to take anything from Mallorca’s ONO Estadi this season, having recorded a 1-0 victory thanks to a predatory Zlatan Ibrahimovic strike on Saturday, Barca can approach this fixture with optimism, despite their naysayers
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