Something unusual happened in the soccer world this week: Barcelona earned a draw on the road instead of a win.
The tie snapped a team-record 16-game winning streak for the Catalans, which means Barcelona will be playing with some added incentive, as well as with a chip on their shoulders. And that's bad news for Arsene Wenger.
When Lionel Messi and company head to north London to face Arsenal in the first leg of the knockout round of the Champions League, you can expect an electric atmosphere at Emirates Stadium. Both teams are rich in history, but right now Barcelona is playing better than any club in the world, and there is little more that could delight the Gunners' fans than a Champions League victory against the team that eliminated them last year.
How dominant has Barcelona been in La Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League? In their last 20 matches, they have outscored their opponent 68-3. That includes a 5-0 shellacking of Read Madrid on November 29.
Lionel Messi has 24 goals in the 20 games he's started in La Liga, while his fellow forward David Villa has scored 15 goals in 22 games.
Arsenal is well aware of the dominance of their upcoming opponents, but they know they can't be intimidated.
We don't have to worry too much about them, said Arsenal holding midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who has been the subject of rumors to join Barcelona. We have to play with no fear. Last season in the first half [of the first leg] we respected them too much. We just have to play our game.
One player Wenger certainly wishes he had in the lineup is attacking midfielder Samir Nasri. The 23-year-old star has been nursing a hamstring injury, and though he is physically ready, Wenger doesn't want to rush him back. But Wenger still plans on putting pressure on the Barcelona goal.
Here (at the Emirates Stadium) we will try to play to our strengths, Wenger said. We will try to attack the other team.
Wenger will also be without Bacary Sagna who will be serving his suspension. But Arsenal has been riding high at home. The Gunners have not lost a home game since their defeat to Tottenham on November 20.
It will be hard to match the skills and momentum of Barcelona. Pep Guardiola, the subject of contract talks, will likely be without central defender Carlos Puyol, but will otherwise be at full strength.
Last year in the quarter-finals, Arsenal managed a 2-2 tie at home, but was thumped at Barcelona 4-1 in the second leg. In the match at the Camp Nou, Messi dismantled Arsenal with four goals.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
D: Clichy, Eboue, Koscielny, Djourou
M: Wilshere, Song, Fabregas,
F: Van Persie, Walcott, Arshavin
D: Dani Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell
M: Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi,
F: Messi, Pedro, Villa
Arsenal 1, Barcelona 2