As inconceivable as it sounds to most, Arsenal could beat Barcelona at The Emirates and earn a draw at the Nou Camp, which would knock the favourites out of the Champions League.
The outcry would be heard all around the world and the Catalan region would join the Spanish press in castigating the La Liga champions for ever more, but in his quiet, assured and reasoned way, Wenger has already plotted their downfall.
Arsenal are without Gabriel Paulista, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, but the quality and depth of the squad has learnt from last season’s shortcomings against Monaco.
Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Petr Cech are among those who will return on Tuesday night, and Wenger believes this is Arsenal’s best chance of beating the Spaniards.
“Everybody’s convinced that we need absolutely to be as a whole squad totally focused, to have a chance… No team is perfect, (though) they are not far from it, Barcelona, I must say. We have to use every moment in the game where we have a chance to score,” Wenger said in his pre-match press conference.
To use every moment and press Barcelona would be the plan. To sit back and invite trouble would certainly not be the way to go, because the last thing you want to do is to invite that pressure. At some point, their ingenuity and class will break through and with Neymar, Suarez and Messi facing you, Arsenal need to force the attack.
Wenger will prepare his team to play higher up the park, thus not letting their full-backs make their usual runs. As they try to move forward, that will leave space behind them and that’s for Arsenal to exploit.
They need to use Walcott to maximum effect as he will give the Gunners that attacking prowess, but they must not get pulled about. In Pep Confidential, Marti Perarnau recorded a conversation Pep Guardiola had with Bayern Munich in which he explained why Tiki-Taka was misunderstood:
“In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope. You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak. And when we’ve done all that, we attack and score from the other side. That’s why you have to pass the ball, but only if you’re doing it with a clear intention.”
Previous teams have overloaded one side when trying to take care of Messi, only for his teammates to show their quality and rip you to shreds. Messi is not only a superb solo player, but he is a team player and will do what he needs to do for the good of Barcelona.
When Barcelona dominate possession, they will usually win. Under Luis Enrique’s management they have added another string to their bow and become almost unmerciful on the counter-attack, winning a historic treble, becoming world champions and now they are currently on a 32-game unbeaten run, smashing Pep Guardiola’s record of 28. That’s not to say that they can’t be beaten.
While the focus will be on Messi, Arsenal still need to pay close attention to Luis Suarez. Will he come short to lose his man and then take the space behind the defence, as they move in on Messi? It’s about exploiting space and taking every chance, and you know Barcelona will do just that.
Don’t forget that Arsenal have already beaten Bayern Munich at The Emirates this season and with Welbeck back in the side, Arsenal can dominate the Barcelona defence with crosses into him and Giroud. Scrabbling around just behind them would be Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and co. all looking for the loose ball.
This will be an enticing encounter and for Arsenal it’s pay-back time. Defeat in the 2006 final and the knockout stages in 2010 & 2011, maybe it’s the Gunners’ turn for glory?