Remember the last time? Remember the pocket Russian’s thunderbolt?
Itâ€™s amazing how quickly you forget a frustrating, rain-spattered nil-nil draw when you have the small matter of a European Cup tie against Barcelona looming, isnâ€™t it?
Yes of course, the draw for the European Cup could have pitted us against CSKA Moscow or Bordeaux, but whereâ€™s the fun in that? To me, the European Cup is about glamour and butterflies in the stomach and gladiatorial footballing contests. This is the kind of tie â€“ a European Cup quarter-final against the best team in Europe â€“ that most fans of most teams would dream of. Itâ€™s the best draw.â€
No, I havenâ€™t got muddled up or misplaced my marbles. Thatâ€™s a snippet from my preview of the 2010 tie against Barcelona and the sentiment remains pretty much exactly the same. Itâ€™s still glamorous. There are still butterflies. And Barcelona are still the best team in Europe.
Give me Europeâ€™s finest and letâ€™s settle down for the fun. Itâ€™s not like we lapped up an â€˜easierâ€™ tie when presented with one last year, after all. Iâ€™ve complained about numerous humdrum group stages (which I suppose sounds arrogant, though over the years there have been a few), but when the knockout stages are in town, itâ€™s game on. As winter edges to an end, the Champions League morphs into the European Cup of old. Two legs: kill or be killed. I absolutely love it.
Not the being killed bit, obviously – though with five consecutive last-16 knockouts lord knows weâ€™ve got used to that. But the excitement takes on a palpable new level, and when youâ€™re drawn against European aristocracy then it cranks up another notch entirely.
Of course, I wish we werenâ€™t always the underdog when playing against teams like this. Iâ€™d prefer it if they feared us like we fear them, but thatâ€™s not the reality of it, sadly. They are the best.
Our record against them is pretty average, as we know. One win in seven. A draw in 1999 before being dispatched 4-2 at Wembley, a loss in our only ever European Cup final (what if, what ifâ€¦) and two aggregate defeats in the knockouts. Though on both the latter occasions, we performed well at home.
So what to expect? Iâ€™ll be happy with a handbrake-off performance containing some flair, pace and (controlled) aggression. Thatâ€™s the Arsenal Iâ€™ve wanted to see more of for the whole season, and which has only really appeared in brief electrical storms of scintillating form.
But Iâ€™ll also be happy with a big defensive performance, one in which we heed Wengerâ€™s warnings about not â€œbeing stupidâ€. Letâ€™s be honest, the odds are stacked against us. We know that. But it will be a cracking tie and who knows what could happen.
Iâ€™d guess that most of the team picks itself, with right midfield the only slot thatâ€™s up for grabs. I canâ€™t see Ramsey anywhere but central and Iâ€™d be surprised if Giroud didnâ€™t start, so Walcott, Welbeck, Ox or Campbell will fight for the last slot. You could argue the case for each of the four, albeit requiring some switching of positions. Walcottâ€™s pace, Welbeck and Campbellâ€™s workrate and power, Oxâ€™s directness and crosses. Take your pick but whatever happens weâ€™ll have options off the bench.
— REDaction Gooners (@REDactionAFC) February 22, 2016
Iâ€™ll be in early for the REDAction extravaganza and to soak in the atmosphere. I donâ€™t know what to expect other than an evening of high-octane, raucous, non-surcharged European football.
Come on you reds!