Back Barcelona to win, but Arsenal can get among the goals in the Champions LeaguePublished February 22, 2016
Barcelona stretched their run of matches without defeat in all competitions to 32 with a 2-1 win at Las Palmas on Saturday. The problem for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal is that they need to get the better of Barcelona over two legs, not just 90-minutes, so their task looks nigh on impossible before they even start.
Quite how they stop the attacking trident of Lionel Messi (who has contributed 21 of the 98 Barca goals in the long unbeaten run), Luis Suarez (35) and Neymar (19) over 180-minutes is difficult to fathom.
On the plus side, at their very best, Arsenal are the one English team capable of almost going toe-to-toe with Barca in terms of the quality of football played and the Gunners rearguard is also much-improved on what it was a few years ago.
It’s also not as if Arsenal weren’t in decent form themselves, having lost just two of 18 matches in all competitions. Wenger made a number of changes to his starting XI for the FA Cup tie with Hull City to rest key players with Barca game in mind, although Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud did come off the bench in a frustrating 0-0 draw. Arsenal had 68% possession and 24 shots on goal against Hull – they won’t get that against Barca.
The Gunners also need to break a rather unfortunate recent habit of last 16 Champions League exits, having gone out at this stage of the competition in each of the previous five seasons. They’ve had some similarly tough draws in those years, including Barcelona (in 2010-11), AC Milan and Bayern Munich (twice), but last season’s elimination at the hands of Monaco was a major disappointment.
Arsenal didn’t exactly impress during the group stage of this season’s competition either, losing at Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Olympiakos in their first two matches to leave their qualification for the knock-out stage in serious jeopardy, before a 2-0 win at home to Bayern Munich got them back on track.
A victory by any margin against Barcelona would suffice and Arsenal are not without a chance here, but Barca’s front three are in such brilliant form at present that you simply can’t go against them. Rather than backing Barcelona to win the game at odds-on, a better value punt might be to take them to win and both teams to score. Arsenal possess enough attacking quality to trouble a Barca defence that isn’t always the most watertight.