Get ready for an incredible match. Last year’s Champions league tie between Barcelona and Arsenal in the round of 16 produced two of the more exciting matches in last year’s European contest in different ways. In the first leg, the Gunners came back from 2 goals down to earn a gritty draw thanks to the emergence of Theo Walcott and the famous Cesc Fabregas leg-break (a true captain’s performance). The Gunners then were outclassed (in part because of their depleted squad) at the hands of Messi in a truly masterful and dominant performance. With a healthy Gunner squad, this is the first time the Gunners seem to have a chance to earn a win against the Blaugrana in quite some time.
Cesc Fabregas is obviously the poster-child of this game. A product of the Barcelona youth system, the 23-year-old has become one of the world’s best mid-fielders and has amassed a wealth of experience. Arsenal’s willingness to attack the game starts with him keeping to his style and not being intimidated by the midfield mastery of Xavi and Iniesta. A true-ball winner will have to emerge from the Gunner midfield to ensure that Arsenal maintain some possession in the contest at the Emirates and more than likely Alex Song or Jack Wilshere will be handed the responsibility of doing the dirty work. Both have emerged as big presences during this year’s campaign and if the Gunners are to have any chance, they’ll need to win the physical midfield battle. At the front line, RVP will need to have a terrific game to break through the Barca back line and should be helped by the absence of Carlos Puyol. Theo Walcott’s searing pace should also frighten the Spanish club, as Messi noted this week as being one of the most dangerous players he’s ever played against.
On the other side of the coin, Barca are playing phenomenal football (despite their disappointing 1-1 draw last weekend). The team is absolutely on fire and Messi amazingly has taken his game to another level this season, amassing an absurd 40 goals and 19 assists in just 34 appearances in all league competitions. While there is no true way to contain the midfield magician, cutting off his supply by shutting down Iniesta and Xavi is a start. The men in the Barcelona jersey will know that Arsenal is a scary team to face, considering they play a very similar style to the Blaugrana. Whoever attacks the game initially should come out with the advantage in the second leg.
I legitimately believe Arsenal can carve out a narrow victory in the contest, thanks to Walcott and Wilshere owning the game.
Prediction: Arsenal win 2-1 over Barca, setting up a juicy 2nd leg at Camp Nou.
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