Arsenal vs. Barcelona: Who Will Win?

Mar 08, 2011

Washington Post Editor and sports enthusiast David Marino-Nachison takes questions on today's Champions League game between Arsenal and Barcelona.

Happy Fat Tuesday, folks. I'm looking forward to discussing today's Barcelona-Arsenal match with you, as well as anything else soccer-related that might be on your mind.

Who'll win today? What about the rest of the matches? The rest of the tournament? And so on... Have at it.

As a bit of a refresher, please take a moment to watch these highlights of the the first leg of Arsenal-Barcelona on YouTube. Great stuff, and great work from the announcers!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx-vO84DoAI

 

Do you think Gunners will win at Barcelona's home ground?

Well, this is kind of the big question, isn't it?

I'd like to hear what you think -- and why. I'll come back with my prediction a little later.

Arsenal has relied on Alex Song to police the pitch this year and protect their sometimes shakey back four. Walcott provides blistering pace that stretches the shape of defences and exposes gaps. Puyol and Pique are one of the best defence tandems out there. Which team will be able to compensate for their missing players better?

Lineup questions are on everybody's minds today, aren't they?

Injuries and suspentions seem certain to have a big impact on this match. Last I checked, Barcelona has to replace their central defense and Arsenal has an iffy van Persie (scorer of an impossible goal in the first leg).

It's hard to imagine that there's much you could do to a team, particularly in an important match, more significant than shaking up their starting defense. I'm reading that Abidal and Busquets might step in. Fine players, but Puyol and Pique they ain't.

Wow, I wish I wasn't stuck in the office this afternoon. This should be an excellent game to watch. It seems like Barcelona has not been quite as dominant in La Liga in recent weeks as they were before, although I'm not sure if they could have kept up that level of play anyway. It seems like many teams are bringing back 9 field players to defend (if not all 10) and letting Barcelona bring the ball up to midfield before even attempting to pressure the ball. Do you think Arsenal will sit back and play for a 0-0 draw? When was the last time Barcelona not score at home? This would seem like a dangerous strategy for Arsenal to employ.

Here's Barcelona's schedule and results.

It's been interesting reading Wenger's comments ahead of the match. Obviously, he wants to keep Barcelona guessing about how he'll approach things.

I find it hard to believe they'll sit back for 90 minutes. For one, you've got to find out how the defense responds.

For two, Barcelona generally owns the ball under any circumstances. Playing completely defensively would cede it to them for even more time.

But certainly Arsenal will play more conservatively as the match rolls on -- especially if it looks like they'll get the result they want.

David, it's not that hard. A friend of mine was at the Emirates for the first leg. Went through a reputable ticket broker and everything worked out fine. It's just that tricky matter of airfare. Fortunately mid-week in February is not an expensive time to travel to London (cheaper than, say, the Carribean in February) or a hard time to use rewards miles. You owe it to yourself!

Heh. I'm not sure I've earned another vacation so early this year having already been to ... but you don't really care, do you?

I'll say this: Fans, if you love soccer, make it a point of seeing a match -- any match, any level, any stadium -- when you travel overseas. It's a great way to get a taste of local life while watching the Beautiful Game.

I've been to a few games in England, but never a Champions' League match... It's on the list, for sure.

Heard any updates?

I wish Steve Goff or Paul Tenorio were here to tackle this one. Last I'd read, the match (in July) was pretty darn likely. It would be hard to skip something like that, though I imagine ticket prices would be pretty high.

I'm looking forward to returning to RFK this season to see what should be a pretty interesting United team. And the games actually count!

Since I shared the Barcelona results earlier, here are Arsenal's.

 

 

Nobody plays the middle of the field better than Barca. Arsenal has to use Song like they used him in the last game, to put a body on Messi and play hard defense in the middle. If Arsenal can keep Barca from scoring first, they should be able to get out of there with a tie at the worst. If Barca scores first...Wenger better be ready. It could easily turn into one way traffic out there.

It's kind of a cliche I suppose -- but I think you're on to something. The first 15-25 minutes of this match should be very telling. If Barcelona scores first, they could spend a lot of the rest of the match "running downhill."

Song isn't available today, so they're going to need to find some other way to try to slow Barcelona's midfield down...

Do you expect a low scoring defensive game, or do you think it more likely will be an offensive shoot out?

My guess is Barcelona would like to try to open the floodgates today in front of the home crowd.

I did a quick look back at some stats this morning. This season, in Barcelona's victories, they've won by almost three goals on average. To me, that's an astounding number -- and it would put them past Arsenal.

When they lose, they lose by about a goal and a half on average. But that's not an option for them today...

(Arsenal's numbers aren't half bad either. Their average margin of victory is closer to 2.5; their average loss margin is about 1.2.)

 

Did you see Guardiola's assertion that Wilshere (who is apparently, or at least according to the press, the future of English football) would be a reserve player on Barca? Smack talk ahead of a key game? Or reality?

Funny, huh?

Conventional wisdom is you don't make the other team's players angry before a game. But maybe Pep's trying some kind of reverse-reverse-reverse psychology.

I like Wilshire. He's a great fit for that team. He could be important today -- and a big game (say, a clinching goal or assist) would make the job pretty easy for the sportswriters!

If Arsenal knocks Barcelona out of the Champions League, do you think that will be enough to keep Fabregas at Arsenal long-term?

Wenger's personnel moves are hard to figure -- he has a method, certainly, but it's very much his method. And we're not on daily speaking terms.. 

I imagine that if someone offers funny money for Cesc, Arsenal would have to listen.

But who knows? Let's enjoy today's game, first, and see where things land.

For our 25th anniversary my husband and I went to Old Trafford for the United -AC Milan match which United won in stoppage time when Giggs stuck his foot out near the Milan goal, stole the ball, and spotted Rooney's run. Best. Anniversary. Ever.

Isn't Old Trafford a great place to visit -- and see a game?

I was lucky enough to see one a few years back (against Leeds, back when Tim Howard and Kenny Cooper were still at Manchester United) courtesy of the family of my friend Brian "The Big Orange Kitty" Morris.

Not only did we catch the week's main event, but we caught a reserve match in Altrincham the night before. It was like $5 and well worth it.

Even more worth it was seeing Jovan Kirovski's name immortalized on a plaque in the stadium.

I say six. They need to have that many if they are going to get out of Camp Nou with a tie or better.

Heh. OK, so without Song -- who are your picks for picking up the cards? And for what? Professional tackles? Timewasting?

I love this match. The two teams I routinely root for. Barcelona is going to be more vulnerable to an air attack with their shaky back four. Look for Chamakh and RVP to get good aerial service from Arshavin and Fabregas. If Bendtner is in, look for Arsenal to be wondering why there's no one in the box to receive crosses. David Villa will give Dojurou a fit today. Prediction Barcelona 2 : Arsenal 2 ..... Arsenal through on aggregate. Cheers!

Neutral fans (I am one) would be happy with four goals today -- but here's hoping for a clear winner.

I'm hoping for a big game from Arshavin. He's a fascinating player to watch. He got them the win last time around, and maybe wants to see if he can stick the dagger in the ol' Barcelona back today.

It's certainly an opportunity for someone to become a legend -- of course, there are already loads of legends who will be lining up, whatever happens, in this match...

My understanding is that Pique and Puyol are out today. Given Barca's weakness last game with just Puyol missing, do they have a chance to stop Arsenal? Also, do you expect Arshavin to start today, given how effective he was last match?

Yep, they're both out. Very, very tough to replace.

It's up to Arsenal to decide how much pressure they want to try to put Barcelona under. If they go for the throats early, they could really give that defense trouble -- or get burned.

I'd start Arshavin, personally,

I love Dempsey at Fulham and Holden at Bolton, but how long do you think it will be before an American is a regular on the starting 11 of a top 4 team?

Well, I'm 36... so there's one option that's probably off the table.

Are you talking about a top 4 team in England, or a Champions' League semifinalist-type club?

Without getting into too much detail, my impression is that the continued growth of MLS has led to (and will continue to lead to) the development of many, many more players who can be regular starters and key contributors for clubs in the biggest leagues.

We've not had as much luck with superstar types. I couldn't begin to guess when one will hit. But it looks like our current group of young players has a lot of talent in a lot of positions around the field.

I'm eager to see how Coach Thomas Rongen's Under-20 National Team (for players born 1991 and later) does this year.

It's a shame these two teams had to meet in this round. I am guessing that Barca will get their act together and win. I'm not sure that their missing defenders will matter much since Arsenal don't have a whole lot of attack at the moment. That 0-0 at the weekend was pretty depressing. Much as I hate to say it, they just can't win the big ones these days...and they even have trouble with the little ones. Had they not given away points at Newcastle and in other matches where they were ahead they'd be leading the league and looking confident. But you never really have the impression that they are total control. Barca on the other hand almost always looks to be in total control. If Arsenal try to sit back Messi and co will tear them to pieces.

My gut tells me you're right about Barcelona winning today and getting the result they need. Missing players aside, they are playing at home, they have Messi, they have so much to play for...

But you're probably being a bit hard on Arsenal for this weekend's draw. They got some tough calls (that late offside on Arshavin, for example) and Sunderland is pushover.

That said, they didn't get a win they needed. We'll see how they respond.

Abou Diaby seems like he would be the likely player to step into Song's role. He's physical enough to be a destroyer, but he has a tendency to drift forward. I haven't actually seen many of Barca's games this year. Are there any weaknesses that Arsenal can exploit?

Well, we've already discussed the defense (Puyol and Pique out) a few times here. They will almost certainly be missed.

To me, the way you beat a team like Barcelona is you frustrate them.

Keep them off the scoresheet early with some tough defense, throw an early scare or two at them and -- frankly -- hope they start to worry that it just isn't going to happen for them.

If guys like Messi, etc., start throwing their hands up in frustration in the first half if crosses aren't perfect, shots bounce off posts, etc., that will be a good sign for Arsenal.

Whatever the case, if this is close in the final minutes I would expect a crazy, crazy finish.

Here's a very nice page from UEFA with all the latest matchups and results.

Don't forget, Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma also play today.

Tomorrow it's Spurs-Milan and Schalke-Valencia.

Why didn't the Post send Steve Goff to cover this? I'm outraged!

Umm... Why didn't you ask why I wasn't sent? I've never even been to Spain. It's tragic, I tell you.

 

A quick pitch for Arsenal America--my son and I saw a match at Emirates in 2007 (the first one they ever lost there, against West Ham) and we got the tickets through Arsenal America, the club's US supporter chapter. Full price, very good seats, no brokerage charges. They're at http://www.arsenalamerica.com/. GO GUNNERS!

Just posting this in case anyone's thinking about a trip.

Generally speaking, if you're thinking of a visit to an overseas club it doesn't hurt to check and see if they have a U.S. fan club. Many do, and they can make purchasing, arrangements, etc., relatively easy.

On the other hand, maybe you're the type who likes to just walk up to a stadium in a strange country and make friends.

 

... " Sunderland is NO pushover" earlier.

I assume La Liga and the EPL have roughly similar domestic schedules in terms of fixtures. Does Spain also have domestic tournaments like the Carling Cup and the FA Cup? Don't they take a break for the winter holiday? I'm having a bit of trouble deciphering the Barca schedule you posted... Basically, I'm curious about whether the two sides have played a roughly similar amount of matches (overall) at this point in their seasons.

The numbers are pretty close. By my count, Barcelona has a played a few more games than Arsenal -- maybe a handful.

Spain does have a cup -- the Copa del Rey. Barcelona has the all-time most titles, but Sevilla won it last year.

Here's the Wikipedia entry.

I love Wiki for getting a quick glance at how soccer is organized (leagues, cups, etc.) in other countries.

If anyone questions whether soccer/football is on the ascendancy in the US, just look at this chat through a major national newspaper. I remember seeing the Arsenal-Barca 2006 final at the Lucky Bar in DC, the Arsenal hangout, and there so were so many people the fire marshal threatened to close the place! And...COME ON YOU REDS!

Heh. I once watched a Real Madrid-Barcelona game from the hallway leading into Lucky Bar. (Wonder where Matt and Delia are watching the game today...) Yep, they get a good crowd there.

Folks, looks like the ref is blowing the whistle on this chat and it's time to hit the showers -- I mean, get lunch.

Thanks for hanging out and sending in questions and thoughts. Enjoy the matches. And don't forget to read Soccer Insider, the Post's soccer blog, every day!

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/soccerinsider/

 

In This Chat
David Marino-Nachison
Post editor Dave Marino-Nachison is a soccer fan, player and coach who has written about the American and international game, seen professional matches on three continents and – to his great regret – never seen Arsenal or Barcelona play live.
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