Arsenal vs Barcelona – Champions League Final Preview – Part 1
Serious contenders? We’re having a laugh!
Paris, May 17th. Champions League Final. Barcelona vs. Arsenal. Ronaldinho vs. Henry.
For the romantics, the stage is set to witness two of the most entertaining footballing teams (when they’re on song that is) go head to head. As the Guardian puts it, this is the final everyone (apart from the teams) wanted. I’ve had people tell me (including my colleague here on SoccerLens) that Arsenal is in with a great chance, and that they’re serious underdogs for the win.
Unfortunately, Lehmann’s penalty save at the end of Tuesday’s semi-final put gloss over what have been extremely worrying signs for Arsenal all season.
First up, Barcelona did not, like Arsenal, play poorly in the second leg. It was a tight match, and while the analysts focused more on Barca’s weak defense (how they are on course to win La Liga twice in a row with a supposedly leaky defense doesn’t cross anyone mind), the fact is that Milan could not break them down, bar Shevchenko’s disallowed goal.
Secondly, where Arsenal’s defense may have looked at the nil-nil scoreline with considerable joy, their back four are no where near as strong as Nesta and co., no matter what Arsenal fans say. Flamini and Senderos, when they return, cannot be expected to hold their own against Ronaldinho and co. — one only has to witness Ronaldinho’s goal against Chelsea in the 2nd leg (where he brushed pass Terry and Carvalho like they were straw men to score the first goal) to know what Barca are capable of.
Third, there’s a danger of Arsenal being overrun in the midfield just like they were against Villarreal. Barca are not Madrid or Juventus — two teams who played brittle football and were found wanting on the counter-attack. For Arsenal’s approach to succeed they will have to break down the Barca midfield and it’s not going to be easy even if Silva and Fabregas play at the top of their game.
At this point it would be a cheap shot to talk of Arsenal’s poor form in the Premier League — they’ve done well, but not good enough by their own high standards. And while they’ve shrugged that off to step their game up a few notches in Europe, against Barca, a team in full ascendancy, it’s a tough ask without form to back you up.
If you look at how Arsenal has won their last three ties in the Champions League, it has been a classic hit-and-run. Score in the first leg, and then hold out in the second one. They’ve managed to get away with it so far, but who will bet against Barca scoring? And scoring twice? At this point 2-1 to Barca looks like a fair result.
Arsenal has not been able to raise their game seriously and the last three times they’ve come up against a team fighting for their lives (Madrid, Juve, Villarreal), Arsenal have been unable to score. On the evidence, they will have to improve considerably before they can even think about scoring against Barca.
There is talk of how Arsenal is the hungrier team, but seriously, that’s just someone’s wishful thinking and sidestepping the main issue — that Barcelona will outclass the Gunners from the word go.
Serious underdogs? Yea right. I’m hoping someone argues with me on this one, because at the moment I can’t see Henry pulling another rabbit out of his hat. He will give it his all, but against Barca and Ronaldinho, his teammates will come up short.
Hope I’m proven wrong mate, but I don’t see it happening any other way.
Prediction: 2-1 to Barca, but ask me again on the 16th.
Update: Read part two of this review: Champions League Final