Champ’s League: Arselona Live!

Yes, there is another game today.

After yesterday’s Boot Country theatrics and the quibbles that seem to be following Roma, I’m highly inclined to only take in the score of that game. Probably a mistake but…the headliner:

Yes, it's probably time for us to get subjected to yet another Xavi passing chart...

• Cesc It Ain’t So: Will
Arsenal Hold The Line at Home against Barca?

Wonderful that this rematch is happening from last year. Better yet with different actors in it.

With less than a collective fifteen observations of both teams this year, I’m not going to go out with a prediction.

Here are just some thoughts.

I don’t think–even with the swap of Villa for Zlatan–that Arsenal can afford to sit deep in this one. Their defensive organization is simply not good enough–this is an Arsenal team that has consistently conceded against lower level Premiership sides as well as Championship sides.

That said, the addition of a nimble Johan Djourou–well-respected at this publication–and 25-year-old Laurent Koscielny give Arsenal an agile interior. Their relative youth suggests that the pair could either have a howler or not grasp the moment and be difference makers–watch how this duo comes out.

Secondly, and I’ll probably eat my words shortly here, if I’m Arsene Wenger, I use the same deployment of Theo Walcott as I did last year–after the half as a sub when Pep and company can only make adjustments in-stream.

Walcott is not a 90-minute player and adding him in early takes away the known threat that must be accounted for later–when Maxwell and company are slowed. I’d stow him on the bench for the start.

Finally, if I’m Arsenal, I’d bang on the right rear guard of Barca–use Van Persie off-center and bring Nasri–if fit. Force Busquets to drop to help out and hopefully open up space for Cesc in the middle.

All of this, of course, easier said then done.

For the interlopers, it will likely be business as usual. Press up the pitch, bring Dani Alves up the right flank using Busquets as cover (hence the Arsenal comment above) and then, of course, Xavi pulling the strings.

Champ’s League….soon.

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57 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:03 PM

    Barcelona are without Carlos Puyol, and Arsenal are without Bacary Sagna. But they have Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie playing this time. Regarding using Theo Walcott as an impact sub [and what an impact he made last year], I think I would start him to be honest. He’s playing well and scoring, and without Puyol mopping up, he’s got to attack Maxwell or Abidal – and also protect Emmanuel Eboue.

    One thing Arsenal must do, is press much better than they did last year. They stood off Barcelona too much. I know this might sound bizzare, but I do not rate Victor Valdes. I think he gets away with a lot because he has such a strong team in front of him hiding his glaring weaknesses.

    Reply

    • Posted by Patrick on 2011/02/16 at 12:28 PM

      I think having Abidal clean up is not as relevant as the pundits make it out to be. He’s faster than Puyol, and has been playing at a fairly comparable level in terms of defensive ability. He has simply been a phenomenal replacement since Puyol got hurt, I’d be more worried seeing Gabi.

      The one thing Abidal will never make up for is Puyol’s leadership, but leadership won’t help you catch Walcott at a full sprint ;)

      I could write an entire article about how VV is a far superior keeper than anyone gives him credit for, but I can tell you one thing: He is certainly leagues ahead of Szczesny. The biggest problem with your argument is what glaring weakness? Everyone claims he has one but nobody can point to anything. He was shady off his line earlier in his career but I haven’t seen evidence of that the past two seasons. He is also the perfect goalkeeper for the *system* but that, as I mentioned, rates far too much analysis to squeeze in here.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:30 PM

        Great having a Barca expert on here. Going to be a good place here today to chat on the game. Thanks Pat.

        Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:36 PM

        His biggest weakness is he flaps and is indecisive with crosses. Saying he is a little shady off his line is a bit like saying Walcott is quick! But of course, Szczesny is untested at this level, so who knows, he might get stage fright – but so far this season he’s looked pretty solid [can't think of a mistake that he's made that has cost them].

        I think that Puyol’s absence will be huge. I cannot stress this enough.

        Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:06 PM

        And what do you mean, “he is also the perfect goalkeeper for the *system*?

        You mean he has great concentration as he’s largely redundant throughout the game?

        Reply

        • Posted by Patrick on 2011/02/16 at 1:53 PM

          Yes! I think it is exceptional to be an excellent shot stopper when you only see a few chances a game, especially when a disproportionate number of those chances are coming on breakaways and counterattacks. I can tell you from personal experience that when under consistent attack you lock in and generally perform better as a keeper — its difficult to sit back most of the game and have the focus to perform when called upon.

          Pinto’s fairly terrible at it, at least.

          But mainly I was thinking about his ability to read the game well enough to act as a sweeper keeper. In the champions league this particular skill isn’t so important as his shot stopping and breakaway stopping skill — but in the liga you will consistently see him playing high up on the pitch, making plays and acting as an outlet for passes. His defensive & passing abilities exceed those of many goalkeepers, which, for the majority of the Barcelona season, is much more important than the ability to go up and get a cross on the proverbial “cold night in stoke.”

          But like I said, those questions are more relevant in the frame of the barcelona system. I still haven’t seen proper evidence of him being a lesser keeper than any of the other Premiership or European Clubs’. If I remember correctly he’s stone CR9 / Droba / Van Persie / Ect more than his fair share.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 8:10 PM

          You have to admit that due to Valdes’ error, Barcelona are going into the second leg having to score rather than being ahead on away goals.

          I understand your reasons, but disagree. I feel that all the elite keepers have decent footwork but make less goalkeeping errors. Since the backpass rule, it is part and parcel of modern football. The reason why other keepers launch the ball forward he because of pressing, rather than inadequate footwork. If you’re playing Barca, you’re not going to necessarily press their keeper, but get your defensive shape sorted out. My point is that I disagree with your assessment of Valdes, and I strongly believe he is their weak link.

          Reply

  2. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:08 PM

    Completely understand the reasons to start him.

    I just don’t think he’s a 90-minute player and I don’t think he really protects Eboue all that much as Maxwell will push and be helped by Busquets who will drop and provide cover.

    Here’s the thing–and why I suggested it. It’s in Barcelona’s head and–with the foundation of my argument that Walcott doesn’t go hard for 90–why not bring him on in the 2nd half and turn him loose when players are slowing and the game tempo can be changed.

    Either way he’s in the line-up. That Nasri is starting is even bigger for Arsenal. Arshavin has been a ghost and Nasri’s two-way ability on the left will be key.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:15 PM

      I do understand your rationale 100%, but who would you start in front of Walcott – Arshavin, Rosicky? I think Arsenal should go for it from the start. Nasri’s inclusion is huge. He’s great at receiving the ball in a tight space and he is intelligent with it – plus he has great movement. Just hope that Arsenal’s attacking trio are in sync with Fabregas…

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:22 PM

        I’d stick Rosicky there though you won’t get the corner.

        Again, I know my thinking is in the minority. It’s just a lot easier for a team to adjust at the outset than in-stream and when they’re fatigued.

        Another idea would be to flip Nasri over for cover on that side and put Arshavin on the left. But then you’re playing the Alves-Arshavin game and I think Barca’s man is on form for that one right now.

        Reply

  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:10 PM

    Plus…this is Arsenal’s bench: Subs #afc: Almunia Rosicky Denilson Squillaci Arshavin Gibbs Bendtner.

    No one scares me.

    Reply

    • depends if arshavin is on lately form or the rest of the season form. I think he could come on and create some issues.

      Reply

      • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:20 PM

        Fair enough….as long as he doesn’t miss the bus I guess. :>

        Reply

        • ZING! still my bad. ugh, still frustrated about all that too.

          Reply

          • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:47 PM

            Don’t worry about it.

            For those that pay attention to our trivial rec league goings on, the Black Sox fell 4-2 to the top team in the league last night. First loss on the campaign and the year….but we should have won the game an let our temper (on a day when Gattuso showed the way) get the better of us.

            Other team had three ex-Stanford players and one U-20 on their team apparently yet we had the game and the team on the ropes. Biggy (above) had a sweet trackdown-possess-cross for the 2-2 equalizer before we gave up a freaky own goal (off two players) and then dropped one when pressing for 3-3.

            Reply

  4. Posted by EFG on 2011/02/16 at 12:20 PM

    Who would you have start instead of Walcott? Arshavin? I think you have to go with Walcott and while he won’t provide great defensive cover we’ve at least seen him move – which is more than we can say about Arshavin.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:24 PM

      Again fair point (and love all the early commentary coming in here).

      Another thing to remember though is that Cesc loves to take the right side. You stick Rosicky and Cesc there and I think it’s fine.

      I much rather start Rosicky or Arshavin (who does much better early in games if you check the stats). Get just a half out of the chain-smoking Russian and you’re better off.

      Again, I know, not popular opinion and I clearly see the other side.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:30 PM

        But if Walcott can get behind Maxwell early on he’s going to think twice about galloping forward – that was the ‘protection’ I was referring to, rather than tracking back. Apologies, I wasn’t clear on that.

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 12:34 PM

          Again, understandable and concede that point. However that’s where I think that Busquets is just invaluable. He’ll go Michael Bradley on the left flank (only using that analogy because we are here on TSG) and track down Walcott or at least slow him.

          But I don’t see Maxwell getting forward being a big part of Barca’s game plan.

          I love how Xavi (and this instead of quantity of passes is where is phenomenal) likes to look to Messi and then sneak that almost backdoor pass in on the left to whoever is coming from there Villa, Pedro. Maxwell is not going to do a whole lot of damage on that side regardless of who is there.

          Am I mistaken?

          Reply

        • Posted by Patrick on 2011/02/16 at 12:37 PM

          ^^^This is definitely true.

          We also have Adriano on the bench, so pep might have Maxwell under instructions to work extra hard and expect a sub.

          Adriano flying out of the back late in the game could be dangerously destabilizing.

          Reply

      • Posted by EFG on 2011/02/16 at 12:40 PM

        I get the “Super Sub” role for Theo as well.

        OK, disconnecting from technology as to not ruin the replays tonight – specifically the Roma replay (and I sense the sarcasm in the opening paragraph).

        Reply

  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:26 PM

    It will be interesting to see how Jack Wilshere copes today – he’s up against some of the best players in the world…

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 12:44 PM

      Well, to be specific: how aggressive will Wilshere be? Will he go forward a lot?

      Or, another question: Wilshere has said Arsenal need to be “nasty.” Wilshere has at times shown some bite. Does he go destroyer?

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 12:54 PM

        Wilshere will play slightly advanced of Song, but I can see him being instructed to sit.

        Not destroyer in the De Jong sense, but I think he meant that Arsenal need to be a little more physical, and not stand off Barca.

        Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 1:15 PM

          Been very impressed by Wilshere in this game. He keeps on keeping up in the most important occasions.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:17 PM

          He’s done really well so far. Broken up play well and started attacks with good decisions. Always very aware.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:53 PM

          Love the way Wilshere drops his shoulder {as if to pick the ball up short] and allows the ball to run, and change direction, taking a couple of Barca players out of the game…

          Reply

        • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/17 at 7:10 AM

          The boy grew up today. Possibly their most influential player besides…(gulp)…Walcott. Another one who shed some baggage today. Ran well into space and at defenders.
          Very enjoyable game and Barca didn’t look comfortable from the start due to Arsenal giving them a taste of their own pressing medicine.

          Reply

  6. Posted by Patrick on 2011/02/16 at 12:33 PM

    Key to the game… How do Arsenal play Busi?

    If you drop your forward line too far back to cover the threats in the midfield (Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, ect…) you leave busi free to lie deep and act as an outlet for possession play.

    You get after him too much, you make a LOT of space on the pitch.

    Will be an interesting dynamic.

    Reply

  7. Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 12:49 PM

    Szczesny will be underratedly important: his distribution has at times been awful and Arsenal can’t afford to give away possession cheaply.

    Reply

  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:03 PM

    You hold a high line to try and compress the middle third, then you concede space behind for Messi… should have scored.

    Reply

  9. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 1:11 PM

    25′ Wow….that should have been a goal…Valdez should have come off the line there.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:14 PM

      Only if Walcott’s pass wasn’t as hard, Fabregas would have been on goal, but he was forced a little wide…

      Reply

  10. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:15 PM

    RVP are you kidding me???

    Reply

  11. Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 1:53 PM

    I feel Arsenal could upgrade from Alex Song…

    of course, Wenger won’t spend the money, so it’s just musing.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 1:55 PM

      Tough game to guage on considering he’s been on a yellow since 2nd min.!

      Reply

      • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 1:58 PM

        Well, my criticism of Song–for a while now–is that he’s blundering in the attack, which is not something that the yellow should affect.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:24 PM

          I think that is a very harsh criticism, DTH. I think he does the water-carrier work tremendously and lays it off simply.

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 2:29 PM

          Hm. Perhaps. I’ve just seen him get a bit too adventurous with the ball quite a bit–running the ball straight down main street and getting mugged.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:31 PM

          I think Barcelona will mug the best of players, such is their high and intelligent pressing…

          Reply

  12. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:00 PM

    There you go Pique, that’s how to commit a tactical foul. Perhaps you should give notes to Yepes on how to do it successfully!

    Reply

  13. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:21 PM

    Wow. Valdes, how do you concede from that angle? Seriously!

    Reply

  14. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:25 PM

    COME ON! GET IN THERE!

    Reply

  15. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:30 PM

    If Wilshere was American, do you think he’d get in the USMNT ahead of Bradley?

    Reply

  16. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 2:35 PM

    Also, if Arsenal do go through, how much leverage do you think this will give Wenger in getting Fabregas to stay at the end of the season?

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 2:46 PM

      Definitely more leverage. What’s bad for Barcelona is they clearly need more depth and they need an heir to Xavi who’s young. Fabregas is their number one guy. If Fabregas stays in London because Arsenal beat Barcelona, it’s a double loss.

      The other loser here might be Manchester United: the main thing separating United and Arsenal in the title chase–well, besides United’s exceptional centerback pair–was United’s utter confidence in themselves in the tightest of moments and Arsenal’s seeming lack of same. This win over Barcelona might give Arsenal the confidence to key a surge over the last twelve games of the season. United only have a four point lead, with some tricky fixtures coming up. Arsenal have a much stronger chance at winning the league than commonly believed.

      Reply

      • Posted by Jared on 2011/02/16 at 3:36 PM

        I don’t know if it makes a huge difference in terms of leverage unless Arsenal go much further. If they knock out Barca but then lose in the next round (which would be very much an Arsenal thing to do) I don’t think Cesc would be any more likely to stay. He’s a Barca boy and that in the end will matter more.

        I also think it’s in United favor if Arsenal go deep into the Champions League as they will be spread thin. Arsenal can’t play that many games with having an injury. Does anyone really think that Van Persie stays healthy with both FA Cup, Premier League plus a few extra Champions League games? He’s more important to Arsenal than even Cesc at this point because he is the only real striker who fits their system. Chamakh has been ok but he’s not as good as Van Persie.

        Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/02/16 at 4:09 PM

          I’m not sure Barcelona have the money to afford Cesc. With the example of Torres, Arsenal can set the price of 60 million pounds or even greater. With Barca’s debt troubles, they might not have the cash (even with Qatari money).

          And United might get stretched just as thin: I don’t care about the Manchester derby, at some point not having Rio Ferdinand will catch up to them.

          Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/16 at 3:36 PM

        The points Arsenal have dropped at home this season is astonishing to be honest.

        There are a lot of points to be played for, plus Manchester United have to go to Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal – plus the rescheduled home Chelsea game… I can see some twists and turns in the run in.

        Reply

  17. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/16 at 2:46 PM

    Sorry I tuned out….focused on game….and just watching…and lunch.

    Reply

  18. Posted by Nelson on 2011/02/17 at 12:41 PM

    Messi is a ball hog. He had wide-open outlets at times but only wanted to do the messiah juke everyone game when came to near the box. granted, he’ll probably score three like that in Barcelona…

    Does anyone think that it’s time England looks beyond the golden era of Stevie G and Lampard and more to younger talents like Wilshere, Walcott, Lennon, Huddlestone, and Parker. I think England could play with some serious speed and creativity with wilshere at CAM

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 9:42 AM

      I don’t think it’s wise to make too many wholesale changes at once, especially if the older players are still performing.

      But England do have a good core of players who will make up the team post Euro 2012 [Hart, Gibbs, Cahill, Smalling, Tomkins, Kelly, Wilshere, Rodwell, Walcott, Rooney, Johnson, Wickham, Young, McEachran, Albrighton, Sturridge, Welbeck...] some of them need to get more playing time with their clubs

      Reply

  19. Posted by dth on 2011/02/18 at 12:08 PM

    One thing I didn’t realize about the return leg: Pique will be out due to yellow card accumulation. If Puyol is also out because of injury, you have to like Arsenal’s chances to score.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 12:19 PM

      Puyol should be back but his match fitness and sharpness is a question mark. I just hope Arsenal can keep key players injury free – they had some rotten luck in that department over the last few seasons…

      Got to work Valdes more – I’m telling you, he’s their weak link!

      Reply

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