As we prepare for tonight’s match Arsenal fans will be worried that the Gunners shortcomings will be exposed by Luis Enrique’s Champions League winning team, and more importantly the strike partnership of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi.
This past weekend Barcelona secured their top spot in La Liga with an uninspiring 1-2 win over Las Palmas while chasers Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both were held to draws effectively almost guaranteeing the Catalan giants the Spanish title.
Add to this the fact that they are already in the final of Spain’s Cup competition the Copa Del Rey, and you have a team that has the possibility should they go all the way in the Champions League win the Spanish treble for an incredible second season in a row.
Enrique rested defender Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets for the match at the weekend, and while the front three are automatic starters must decide who to play in midfield with Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta all available for selection.
In goal for the visitors will be German Marc Andre ter Stegen, despite the fact No.1 keeper Claudio Bravo is available Andre ter Stegen is their keeper for the Champions League, a bit like playing David Ospina in the FA Cup for Arsenal.
As for Arsenal, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has already talked about how important it will be for the back-four to work as one solid united while saying that he expects their defensive abilities to be tested to the core.
Brazilian centre-back Gabriel is unavailable for tonight’s match which means it will be up to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny aided by full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to be called upon to keep Messi and co from getting on the score sheet.
It will also be a test for central midfielder Francis Coquelin as he will be required to play deeper than he would perhaps like. Now while we have already outlined Arsenal’s defensive duties the most important man on the pitch for the Gunners both here and for the second leg at the Nou camp is goalkeeper Petr Cech, a veteran who has already tasted the sweet success of winning the Champions League title with Chelsea.
As a bit of a side note you will be interested to know that Lionel Messi has never scored against Petr Cech, a statistic the 33-year-old will hope to still be intact following tonight’s match.
One place where Arsenal will need to be careful in not getting caught on the counter attack when Aaron Ramsey takes the ball forward, as the Welshman has a tendency to think he is playing in a number ten role rather than that of a holding midfielder.
With both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez automatic starters in anyone’s team and with Olivier Giroud almost a certainty to start as centre-forward the only other question is who Wenger will play out on the right with Joel Campbell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott to select from.
Our guess is that he will go with the strongest possible team, which means Walcott will get the start.
Arsenal cannot afford to sit back and soak up pressure, which means to have any chance in this match they are going to have to take the game to Barcelona as the more time the visitors spend defending is less time that they have to score.
Both teams like to play attractive football so with that in mind we expect to see goals, and plenty of them in what should be a highly entertaining game.
Have a look at our selection below and see if you think we have got it right.
Arsenal predicted starting XI: Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott & Olivier Giroud.