Match preview: Arsenal v Barcelona, the sequel

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?

Doubting Thomas’s red / Songtral defence

Lionel roars

It’s now just a week to go until Barcelona roll into the Grove, and quite honestly, I think I can allow myself another dose of early excitement. Yes, I know there’s a crucial Premier League game at St. Andrews first up – they’re all crucial now – but without a midweek match there’s plenty of time to think about both.

It’s all about Messi, with his spectacular hat-trick against Zaragoza (“that’s for Nayim”, I muttered) well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it. He’s in such ridiculous form at the moment that the world’s pundits are running out of players to compare him to. I can’t wait to see him play to be honest. I’m sure Wenger will devise a cunning plan involving the periscope sprinklers to negate him.

One person who does find the whole thing a bit weird is Thierry Henry, who has said “I don’t want to play against Arsenal”. I can understand the sentiment but it’s still odd to be seen to be talking yourself out of a place in the starting XI. Perhaps he knows already that he’s unlikely to start?

Verm but fair

I was surprised to learn that Arsenal tonight appealed against Vermaelen’s red card on the grounds of wrongful dismissal. I must admit, I did think the club would take the one-match ban on the chin, but clearly they a) feel they can get this one overturned or b) are sufficiently worried about Saturday to give it a go. Presumably the FA cannot extend it further if the appeal fails?

Songtral defence

Having seen Song drop into central defence against West Ham, and do very well there, it does of course give us more options for Saturday, albeit at the expense of the holding midfield role in which the Cameroonian has so excelled this season. Given the proximity of the next two games, I’m inclined to think Campbell will play in only one of them, and seeing that Arsenal have appealed against Vermaelen’s red, it could well be that Sol is earmarked for Barcelona only. That would leave Song and Silvestre as the only option for this weekend, which might explain the appeal. I could of course be talking absolute guff, but Campbell and Vermaelen, with Song mopping up in front, would be my choice for Barcelona.

Right then, laters.