Mar 072011
 

Well folks, it’s the big one. The league may be our bread and butter, but for the last 7 seasons we’ve enjoyed the chocolate pudding that is the knockout stages of the Champions League. And tomorrow night, as if I have to remind any of you (!), we take a 2-1 lead to the Camp Nou.

The big news is that Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas will be in the squad at least for the game. I suspect that the captain will start, but that we’ll see the Dutchman start the game from the bench. For all AW’s assertions that “I am very bad at mind games”, whether our in-form striker will start will give Guardiola something to think about.

It will certainly be a great game for the neutral, with Barcelona needing to score, but whether it’ll be a good game for the gooner depends very much on our use of the ball, if and when the Catalunians decide to give it to us.

We simply cannot afford to gift possession back to them. But if we play to our potential, we certainly will have chances at their end. With Puyol and Cesc’s mate Pique out, they’ll have Abidal and Busquets at centre half, by all accounts. That could give us an edge. If they’re not used to their positioning, we may even get a few half-chances. We must take them.

For me, whether we take our chances or not depends on whether v Persie is on the pitch. I don’t want to rant about our other strikers lack of form here, but suffice it to say I think it’s crucial for our chances that he at least gets on the pitch at some point.

One thing scares me, and it’s not just their little Argentinian. Just one goal from Barça means that they go through. Just one.

As was noted below in the comments, we haven’t had the rub of the green recently, at least from the referee. With a bit of luck, some good passing, and a chance taken, who knows what can happen? A good defensive performance coupled will exorcise the ghost of the Carling Cup Final. A win, and the spectre of the 2006 CL Final will vanish into thin air.

Who starts? Will AW go with Denilson or Diaby in Song’s place. Whoever starts needs to put in a massive shift. I’d like to see the Frenchman get the nod. He can be excellent when he’s on his game. Let’s hope he’s up for it.

So I’m expecting:

Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Fabregas; Nasri – Bendtner/v Persie – Arshavin

Odds
It’s hard to find decent odds on an Arsenal victory, but seeing 8/1 on us coming up trumps got some of my hard-earned straight away in my local Coral. The Half Time/Full Time choice of Barcelona/Arsenal is a ridiculously tempting 69/1 with Unibet, which got a few pennies. They also have Arsenal 5 Barcelona 3 at a frankly ludicrous 999/1. But not even I’d throw money away like that!

Back on this planet, first goalscorer gives me a bit of a conundrum. I’d go for v Persie, but he’s not even on the bookies’ list which worries me. Theo’s on there, but no Robin. Hmm. The 7th player down the list is Nicklas Bendter at 12/1 with BlueSq. If he does score, I’ll never moan about him.

As Simon noted in his comment after the Sunderland non-result, we’ve hardly had the best luck when it comes to refereeing decisions. We do need a good slice of luck tomorrow, but with graft, desire, and a bit of footballing magic we could do the unthinkable and beat them in their own back yard. We’ve done it to Real and to both Milan clubs – let’s add the Barcelona to that list.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!!!!!!!!

Arsenally on the edge of my seat already,

Will

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