With the Champions League draw taking place on Monday, 15 teams held their breath hoping not to get partnered with a menacing 16th.
As the competing clubs were drawn, it was Arsenal that landed the short straw and were given the unenviable task of containing a Barcelona side that has looked imperious in 2015. The Catalan giants wound back the clock to the days of Pep Guardiola in the second half of last season, with Luis Enrique revolutionising the way the famous Camp Nou side play and taking home an array of honours in the process.
Despite relinquishing a two-goal lead against Deportivo La Coruna at the weekend, the reigning European champions show no sign of slowing down, and anyone who beats them this season must be deemed as favourites for the Champions League.
For Arsene Wenger, it will be the resumption of a battle against a team that agonisingly beat the Gunners in the 2006 Champions League Final and eliminated them from the competition for two consecutive seasons in 2010 and 2011. Arsenal will know that they will need to be almost perfect to stand a chance of defeating the Blaugrana, with most of the Emirates Stadium faithful wishing they had landed alternative, more-manageable opposition such as Wolfsburg or Zenit St Petersburg.
However, for Wenger and the Gunners fans, drawing Barcelona should be a source of happiness for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the fact that Arsenal are playing against the perennial challengers for the sixth and seventh time in less than ten years shows that the Gunners have themselves largely been at the pinnacle of European football. If Wenger’s men do the impossible and progress to the next round, the confidence and prestige could well take them to the latter stages of the competition and act as a boost for their hopes of becoming English champions. It would also prove many of the doubters of the French manager and his team wrong, by shredding the accusation that the North London club are unable to raise their game against the very best opponents.
Should Arsenal find the Catalan obstacle too sizeable to overcome, few would berate the Gunners for elimination given the supreme quality of the team that conquered them. It could even be a blessing in surprise if the La Liga giants eliminate Arsenal, despite none of the club’s fans wishing it to happen. The sacrifice of European competition would allow Wenger’s charges to focus on the Premier League run-in without the distraction of more glamour ties on the continent, which in the end could be the difference in seeing the club win a first domestic title since 2004.
As such, although Neymar, Messi and the rest of the Barca gang represent a stern challenge, it is one that Arsenal and their fans should embrace, with positive factors to the draw regardless of which way the tie goes.