It’s been a bit of an off week, hasn’t it? Firstly, we have that disappointing result at Old Trafford, a few days of soul searching and fruitless answer searching and then came the Champions League draw in which the outcome for Arsenal was almost expected.
This draw wasn’t dragged out with unnecessary pomp like only FIFA can really do properly and there was more nervous grinning by the people drawing the balls. There was also less suspense due to the fact that UEFA's rules for the last 16 mean no team from one country can meet another and so there were only four possible outcomes.
None of the outcomes were that great to be honest, but that is what you get when you don’t finish top of your group – this season it was the difference between facing FC Copenhagen and Barcelona.
After days of extravagant media talk about another clash between two football purists, Arsenal were paired with the latter of the above two and so given the most unwanted draw in the round. If the red tops are to be believed, Arsenal’s players and manager were dreaming of this outcome against the side from Camp Nou – no, I checked, they were definitely dreams and not nightmares – if anything to show them how much they have grown since last year.
Arsene Wenger jestingly hinted at some back room knowledge of the draw in the week and said this is who he wanted his team to face. While the prospect of facing Leo and his compadres may seem like a mountain too high, it could play into our hands.
Barcelona will play openly and in a similar style to Arsenal that could provide openings – as shown in both legs last year – and they can’t play as well as they did in those first 20 minutes at the Emirates and last week against Real all the time...can they?
People will point towards Barca’s relentless pressing high up the pitch but is there a team better equipped with the necessary close control and short passing to be able to counter that? Not many. There is also the fact that the squad has greater depth this year and injuries haven’t been as widespread to major players.
Besides, it’s still a while away and lots can change in the fortunes of both teams between now and then – the most you can predict is that it will be an aesthetically pleasing contest.
However, what you definitely don’t want is the curtailing of your attacking instincts – as was seen last Monday night in Manchester. The first half saw Arsenal sit back so much early on that it created an almost reclusive performance. You don’t mind keeping it a bit tighter but to keep it so tight that attacking takes a step back for defending is asking for it; the answer duly came a few minutes before half time.
You could say it was a rather fortunate goal and the second half may have been different had it still been level, but when you start a game looking nothing like yourselves you will rarely finish it that way. United defended stoutly but the psychological damage was done early on.
Arsenal have been successful in the last decade or so by creating some of the most eye-pleasing and glamorous attacking football – this is what we are about. Barcelona won’t play like United did and Arsenal won’t play they did against United again (hopefully) and, as was mentioned before, February is enough time to build up a good head of steam.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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