No sooner had we sunk Wolves on Saturday, my mind turned to this game. I have been thinking of nothing else since, except of course on Valentine’s day, when my mind briefly wandered. (Fulham should have won).
I said before the draw that I wanted Barca. The colony of butterflies inhabiting my gut and the general whiff of giddiness emanating from my pores tells me I was right to want this draw. There is nothing quite like pitting yourself against the best, and Barca are the best.
I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the opening salvo of the home game against Barca last year. I’d never see anything quite like it; they went in for the kill from the off. It was less playing against us, more playing with us. It’s a shame it was my beloved on the receiving end, because that would have been quite a sight for a neutral.
Coming back to 2-2 that night was quite an achievement but it came at a cost. We lost Fabregas, Arshavin, Gallas and Song at various points in the two legs, and we weren’t able to cope.
The challenge is no less daunting this time, but as Wenger asserts, the circumstances are different.
“We are in an ideal condition to face them,” said le Boss. “We cannot complain. We have the belief, the confidence and the players available. We are 90 per cent in February and that was not the case last year. I feel we are in an ideal position to face them.”
Forget the Cesc mindgames, forget Messi telling us how dangerous Walcott is – this all counts for nothing. It’s pre-game bluster. The main thing now is: how do we beat them?
The thing that struck me last time round more than anything else was the way Barca looked for the ball when they didn’t have it. They were as ruthless without the ball as they were with it – hunting in packs, pressing hard, giving us no space. It’s an approach that served us well against Chelsea in December in particular, so we can do it and we need to do it tonight. As Wilshere said, we need to get in their faces a bit. Controlled aggression, pressing hard, no sloppy passing.
Sid Lowe’s three lessons to heed are interesting, as are Smudger’s ‘five courses of action’. We’re not capable of all-out defence (I can almost see Wenger spitting his Shreddies out at the mere thought), so we’re going to have to concentrate on the pressing, the quick breaks and exploiting any space behind the full-backs. Above all, we need to believe we can do it. I’m not sure we did last time round.
We’ll miss the suspended Bacary Sagna but Nasri returns so we have everyone – Vermaelen notwithstanding – available.
I totally like can’t wait.
Is it 7.45pm yet?