On Wednesday, two teams who arguably play the most attractive football in the world will face each other at the Emirates Stadium when Arsenal host Barcelona in the first-leg of the Champions League last-16 round.
It's a repeat of last season's quarter-finals of the competition, a tie which Barcelona cruised through with an aggregate score of 6-3. In retrospect, what will daunt Arsenal more is the goalless first-half at the Emirates than the 4-1 scoreline at the Nou Camp in the second-leg. It was in that first half that Barcelona played possibly some of their classiest football. How the half ended goalless is anyone's guess, but the manner in which Barca eased through Arsenal should be giving Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's manager, nightmares even now.
For a neutral, the game is the equivalent of what a music lover would consider the return of Led Zeppelin to be! Two teams, both of whom are steeped in the noble philosophy of nurturing the youth and playing the attractive brand of the game, come face-to-face. However, they are in different leagues as far as on-pitch recognitions are concerned.
Barcelona are breaking records with every game they play, having won the treble two years back, while retraining the Spanish crown last season. They boast possibly the greatest player in the world in Lionel Messi, who could even go on to become the greatest of all-time! They nurtured the most skillful architects of the game in Xavi and Andres Iniesta. If they already haven't, they are on their way to becoming the greatest team of all-time!
Arsenal, on the other hand, haven't won a trophy in six years. Though they play beautiful football, they continuously fall short in the demands of a big occasion. They do have a decent outfit with former-Barcelona youth gem Cesc Fabregas captaining the London side and are being called 'Barca-Lite', but they have a long way to go if they are to match the Catalans exploits.
In the pre-match press conference, Barcelona's manager Pep Guardiola, who is largely responsible for the Catalans recent success, hailed the Gunners and spoke of the danger they pose.
He said, With Arsenal if you are not well prepared you will be chasing shadows. I like to watch Arsenal play football but I don't like to play against them. Of course I have worries about the game that Arsene Wenger plays. Theo Walcott has some good moments, Wenger is an incredible coach and Robin van Persie is a very mobile player who has a lot of influence.
When you play Arsenal you know what is required of you. The players of Barcelona know what we have to do. We will try to play attractive football, we have for the last 20-25 years. We might lose, we might win but we will always play attractive football for our fans.
In a show of mutual respect, Wenger also praised the best team in the world but added that his side had matured since last year when Barca had demolished them.
We want to win this competition and we know the only way to do that is to beat the super-favorites. He said. Barcelona are certainly the best team in the world at the moment. If we knock Barcelona out, we straight away have a good chance to win the tournament.''
We don't deny the quality of Barcelona, but what is important for us is we have a good opportunity to show who we are now. Not only that, we also want to show Barcelona we are capable of knocking them out.
We have the belief and a strong togetherness to show we are a different team now. In the first half of the home game last year we were spectators a little bit and were a bit inhibited. I believe that confidence-wise and mentally we are a completely different team today.''
In a boost for the neutrals, who would have been disheartened when Jack Wilshere suggested during the weekend that Arsenal may have to alter their game against Barcelona, Wenger said he would stick to his teams principals of passing, attacking football.
The focus on defending well will be vital, as we know that when we have the ball we can cause them problems. When we have the ball we have to play our own game. We want to be faithful to our philosophy, to make sure we dominate the game, that we pass the ball that we have possession of the ball. If we do that, we have a very good chance to beat them.
It'll be a spectacle for sure. One that is sure to invite gasps and cheers. It isn't every day that two of the greatest attacking teams take on each other!
Team News -
In a major boost for Arsenal, Samir Nasri is likely to start after recovering from a hamstring injury. Nasri, who was in the form of his life until the injury two weeks back, will look to hit the ground running. Wenger will have to throw in 20-year-old Wojciech Szczesny in front of goal in the absence of Lukas Fabianski, while Abou Diaby is not available due to a calf-injury and Thomas Vermaelen is also sidelined with a long-standing injury.
Barcelona will be without their skipper and defensive-rock Carles Puyol, but other than that, they will have most of their players available.
Stats and Facts -
Arsenal haven't defeated Barcelona yet, having lost twice and drawn thrice against the Catalans.
It will be quite an open affair with both teams creating chances. However, you can't really go against the best team in the world without altering your strategies. Barcelona to win 2-1.