Five things Arsenal should do to beat Barcelona: Neil Humphreys
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
BARCELONA v ARSENAL
- First leg: Barcelona lead 2-0
(Tomorrow, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212, 3.45am)
Whenever a Barcelona employee faces a question concerning the "threat" of Arsenal, the temptation to giggle must be overwhelming.
The Catalans fear the second leg of their last-16 clash in the way that a father fears a pillow fight with his toddler.
But in the interest of fair play - and a chance to discuss something other than how many goals the Nou Camp hosts will chalk up tomorrow morning (Singapore time) - it's worth examining how the visitors might pull of a sporting miracle.
Forget any foolhardy notions of Barcelona's deficiencies. They haven't got any. If Arsenal are to have the faintest glimmer of hope, then they must focus on their strengths by doing the following…
1 Stick with aces high
Arsenal won't park the bus for both practical and ideological reasons.
First, manager Arsene Wenger doesn't advocate such a defensive approach. And second, he doesn't have a bus. He has Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista.
Occasionally, the lukewarm duo bear a passing resemblance to coordinated centre-backs. But they can also look like two jittery guys sent out on awkward blind date together.
With a suspect defensive partnership and David Ospina, who is a strange hybrid between a decent goalkeeper and a performing seal in search of fish, Wenger cannot hope to hold Barcelona. He must stick to the brave (and un-Arsenal-like) approach that actually worked in the first leg until Lionel Messi broke the deadlock.
The Gunners pressed high. They chased and harried every ball, ironically doing to Barcelona what Watford did to them in the FA Cup.
The Catalans were not rattled, but they were pushed back. Mesut Oezil was so far forward he was practically a second striker behind Olivier Giroud.
Barca fullbacks Jordi Alba and Dani Alves were not allowed to bring the ball out of defence unchallenged.
It's got to be the same again at the Nou Camp. It's a daunting task, but Arsenal are out of alternatives.
Of course, there's an obvious flaw in such a plan…
(left) Coquelin and Elneny
2 Coquelin and Co need game of their lives
Consider Barcelona's first goal at the Emirates.
Fast, furious and breathtaking to behold, its genius derived from its simplicity. It also began in Barcelona's box.
Gerard Pique headed a clearance away from his own penalty area, sparking a counter-attack that included Neymar and Luis Suarez before culminating with Messi.
Arsenal's midfield wall cannot be breached again.
Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, if Wenger opts for the latter, must replicate their Tottenham performance, rather than their lacklustre display against Watford.
Against Spurs in the EPL, they snipped away at Tottenham's elastic play. Against Watford, however, they were given the runaround.
In other words, they thrive when chasing and falter when being chased, so the Nou Camp conditions should suit their ankle- snapping style.
Coquelin, with support from Elneny, must hold the high line. There is no parked bus behind them.
3 More hare and less tortoise
Never mind Barcelona in the first leg, Watford had Arsenal's number in the FA Cup.
The Hornets' reserve goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, disparagingly referred to Arsenal as a "small team", which seems a tad petty, but his broader point was valid.
Arsenal look like a small team against big teams, often short on confidence and penetration.
So Watford played like a "big team". They constantly harassed Arsenal, knowing that the Gunners are often too ponderous in possession and too slow to counter.
Watford boss Quique Sánchez Flores spoke of his desire to leave Arsenal "disconnected" and he achieved his ambition with little difficulty.
Too many Gunners passes go sideways or backwards, usually through Coquelin, making it easier to disrupt their play.
The crab-like football could be a red rag to the bullish Sergio Busquets.
Arsenal need faster passing and less procrastinating, getting the ball to Oezil quickly, the only artist with a similar brushstroke to the boys from Barcelona.
If their distribution is as slow in the Nou Camp as it was against Watford, Barcelona will treat them like training cones.
4 For heaven's sake, pick Welbeck
One overriding feature of the first leg epitomised Arsenal's season.
They couldn't score. Their forward line once again appeared wilfully ignorant of a centre-forward's essential attributes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a clear sight of goal, but his shot was tame. Whereas Giroud barely had a clear sight of the penalty box.
The Frenchman's inability to get a sniff of a goal was a perennial source of frustration in the first leg.
Danny Welbeck is hardly prolific, but he seems a more viable outlet for the rare opportunity that might fall Arsenal's way. There will not be many.
But a Barcelona without the suspended Gerard Pique should serve up one or two, particularly in the early stages if Arsenal go for broke.
And when that time comes, who can Wenger really trust to seize the moment? Welbeck, Giroud or Theo Walcott?
The correct answer is, 'none of the above'. But Welbeck is the best of an unreliable bunch. Beggars can't be choosers.
5 Play like men
Disillusioned Arsenal supporters are right.
Wenger's misfits have displayed less tenacity than an anorexic supermodel walking a poodle down a catwalk.
It's probably asking too much to expect the eye-bulging, vein-protuding commitment of a Patrick Vieira.
In recent weeks, it's been too much to ask for the commitment of a corpse. But the Gunners have got to show up for this one to hold off a mutiny among fans.
They must get angry, spit feathers, play rough, fight them on the beaches and generally do whatever it takes to dispel the growing belief that they remain softer than a tub of margarine left out in the midday sun.
If they can do that, a miracle could sneak up on the Nou Camp. If they can't, then Arsenal's season will be beyond redemption.
"When you see arsenal playing against big teams, they look a small team. They don’t look like winning a title soon."
- Watford goalkeeper heurelho gomes
Defence and attack under scrutiny
HOPEFUL: Per Mertesacker insists that there is still something to fight for, despite the latest setback. PHOTO: REUTERS
He has hardly looked comfortable at the heart of the defence of late, but Per Mertesacker insisted yesterday that the Arsenal rearguard would get it right again, quickly.
He also claimed Arsenal's season was not over - and called on the club's goalscorers to rediscover their killer instinct.
The Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup on Sunday after Watford secured a shock 2-1 win at the Emirates Stadium to eliminate the holders.
The result has seriously dented their chances of silverware of any kind this season, as they now go to Barcelona looking to overturn a 2-0 home defeat in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash with the reigning Champions League holders, and a team at the top of their game.
Arsene Wenger has been constantly defending both his position as manager and Arsenal's chances for success this season, labelling speculation over his own future as "boring" and "a farce" on separate occasions.
And Mertesacker has backed up his manager's claims - insisting there is still something to fight for despite the latest setback.
"It is as you can imagine, we are out of the competition and the treble dream is over," he said.
"The season is not over. We play in a confident way, we maybe lack that bit at the end.
"What is really important in football, to be successful we need to score.
"The desire to play together and to be good at a team is there, you can feel that, even if there is a bit of negativity I can understand."
Mertesacker was involved in both of Watford's goals but the German World Cup winner believes it is at the other end of the pitch where Arsenal's problems lie.
"What we do lack at the moment is we need to score at some point," he said.
"It looks like we play, and play and play until the opposing team score. That is something we need to work on.
"You have to give credit because we kept going and created chance after chance, but at the moment we lack that killer instinct." - PA Sport.