* Image by Stuart MacFarlane
So Arsenal take on probably the best team in the world tonight and arguably the greatest attacking trio in one team of all time. Is that hyperbole? I don't know but you'd have to have a serious think about it if that statement is incorrect.
So given the above, it is difficult to know how to feel about this game before kick off. I am feeling a mixture of emotions such as excitement, fear and hope. Hope that watching Arsenal achieving a positive result by the full time whistle could really kick start our season at such a crucial period of the season.
We travel to Old Trafford on Sunday and the best preparation we could have for a huge game against Manchester United is to get a good result tonight.
But words are easy, putting that into practice is going to be ridiculously difficult. The good news is that we have a mostly rested side and those energy levels will be severely tested tonight, that I'm sure. You would expect the usual to come back into the team right? I can only see one selection issue for Arsène. That will be the right flank and centre of midfield. Yes I know I said one but I think those two positions will be linked together.
Firstly how are we going to approach the game? That is the interesting part. I think we may witness a similar approach to the Bayern Munich at home game. Play compact, play deep and restrict the spaces for Barcelona to pass and move into. In the Bayern game we had Theo Walcott as our outlet but I don't think he did enough at centre forward to replace Oliver Giroud, I don't know. Perhaps the Hull City match was a rehearsal for tonight's game? Probably unlikely though. I really don't see Theo being given a role on the flank, that would be nuts as we will undoubtedly have very little of the ball and Theo isn't the best player when you are struggling to wrestle back some of that possession and also from a defensive standpoint. If Walcott starts, I imagine it would be at centre forward.
I reckon the plan will go something like this, start defensively, make a lot of blocks and tackles. Francis Coquelin will be very important and hopefully he will be closer to the pre injury Coquelin. When the draw was made, I said that without Coquelin we wouldn't be able to get a result from this game, but Francis Coquelin in the team gives us a much better chance. He is one of the best players in the Premier League without the football so I expect him to be making a lot of important defensive contributions. Then if the game is level or very close on 70 minutes, we will see Arsenal applying some pressure on Barcelona. It is a tactic that has worked against this team a few times now, to some success I might add.
So I wouldn't be surprised if this strategy impacted our starting line up. I don't see Arsène throwing the lad in but I'd be kinda up for a Coquelin and Elneny midfield platform with Ramsey starting on the right. The reason for this is because we will more than likely have to chase the ball for long periods, and having both Ramsey and Elneny would certainly help that. Ramsey can also drift inside and give us an extra passing option as well as his goal threat. From what we know of Elneny he is a good player at keeping the ball and is good at putting players under pressure. It would give Arsène room for a more offensive switch later in the game by moving Ramsey back inside and replacing Elneny for the likes of Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain.
I don't think Arsène will go for it but I'm sticking with it because it's my website *sticks out tongue and stuff*
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
Chances are though, Arsène is more than likely to start Welbeck or Campbell on the right with Ramsey staying inside alongside Coquelin. Whatever the starting 11, I think the strategy will be the same. I wouldn't be surprised if we find ourselves stuck in our own half for stretches of the game with the odd break.
That said, it will all have to change if Barcelona find a way (or two) through our defence and Petr Cech, then I am not sure we will be able to stick to that plan and we may have to be more adventurous.
As is often the case in these big games, there will be many interesting battles all over the pitch. Hector Bellerin will have his work cut out with the in form Neymar. Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny will have a rotation of Messi and Suarez to contend with. At the other end of the pitch Alexis will be playing against his old club and I have all sorts crossed that he can find some of his best form after some below par performances in recent weeks.
It's going to be tough folks, no doubt about it but these are the games we should be enjoying.
All I hope for is that we give a good account of ourselves and we do not drop any belief whatever the outcome of the game. Even better would be for us to carry over some improved confidence into our domestic games with one foot still in the Champions League come the final whistle.
I'd take that.