Champions League preview: With a win-less decade in Spain, does Arsenal have enough to stop red-hot Barcelona? - Firstpost

Champions League preview: With a win-less decade in Spain, does Arsenal have enough to stop red-hot Barcelona?

Barcelona: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted his side face an almost impossible task when they travel to face a red-hot Barcelona on Wednesday looking to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in six years.

As so often in the second half of Wenger's 20-year reign, Arsenal will travel to the Camp Nou with a sense of what might have been.

They had their chances to lead at the Emirates three weeks ago before Barca's brilliant forward triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez cut through them with an unerring ease they have made routine.

Messi, Neymar and Suarez have scored a combined 103 goals this season, Arsenal's entire squad a mere 71.

Top of the list of Wenger's detractors has been his inability or unwillingness to splash out on the top-class striker needed to turn Arsenal from perennial pretenders into winners.


Wenger admitted his side face an almost impossible task. AFP

Yet, he tried to land Suarez whilst the Uruguayan was still at Liverpool in 2013.

In a tale of Arsenal's penny-pinch culture under Wenger, they infuriated Liverpool by launching a bid one pound over Suarez's reported £40 million buyout clause.

"What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?" Liverpool's American owner John W. Henry famously replied on Twitter.

Even more damming for Arsenal was that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard managed to talk Suarez into staying for an extra season at Anfield by telling him he was "too good for Arsenal" and that his move to Barcelona would come.

Gerrard was proved right. Inspired by Suarez's 31 Premier League goals, Liverpool agonisingly just missed out on their first title in 24 years.

At the same time Barca had just suffered their first trophyless season in six years.

Suarez then bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, the third time he had bitten an opponent in his career, sparking widespread condemnation and a four-month ban.

Yet, whilst others dithered, Barca pounced, eying exactly Suarez's aggression as the tonic to revitalise the squad already blessed with the talents of Messi and Neymar.

"During the negotiation process the incident with Chiellini happened and provoked a lot of doubts in clubs that wanted to sign him because they questioned his character and didn't know the severity of the ban," Barca's then sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta told Marca.

"I thought that was the ideal moment to accelerate the process of his signing."

Arsenal benefited in their own way from Suarez's move as they snapped up Alexis Sanchez as Barca sold the Chilean to balance the books.

Yet, by swapping Sanchez for Suarez, Barca again demonstrated that they shop in a different market to Arsenal and haven't looked back since.

Sanchez won two major trophies in three years at Barca, coinciding with the Catalans only three-year drought in winning Champions League in the past decade.

His 47 goals in 141 games were a respectable return, but Suarez has already struck 67 in 84 appearances, won a treble and has Barca on course to repeat that feat this season.

"Suarez gives Barca the aggression that is so important in the attacking third," Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone said after seeing his impressive record against Barca turned upside down since Suarez's arrival.

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique speaks during a press conference. AFP

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique speaks during a press conference. AFP

Most importantly of all, Suarez has managed to succeed where other great strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa have failed in dovetailing perfectly with Messi.

"Our relationship on and off the field is very good," Suarez told La Vanguardia.

"We all know Leo is the best, none of us try to beat him or even equal him."

Yet, on goalscoring terms at least, Suarez has surpassed Messi this season with 42 in 41 games to the Argentine's 36 in 36.

Stopping one is difficult, stopping all three of the South American trio has been an impossible task in the past 18 months.

Arsenal could have had Suarez on their side. Instead, when they line-up on Wednesday, they will likely be made to suffer and wonder what could've have been once more.

Barcelona and Arsenal Factfile

First leg

February 23

At London

Arsenal (ENG) 0 Barcelona (ESP) 2 (Messi 71, 83-pen)

Form: Arsenal's hopes of a third straight FA Cup title were destroyed by Watford on Sunday as the Hornets stunned Arsene Wenger's side 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium. Danny Welbeck's late strike wasn't enough to save the Gunners as goals from Odion Ighalo and Adlene Guedioura left the north Londoners facing the prospect of another season without any silverware. The Gunners have won just once in five outings since losing to Barcelona in the first leg, with successive defeats to Manchester United and Swansea causing severe damage to their Premier League title challenge.

Barcelona warmed up for the return fixture in ominous fashion with a 6-0 demolition of Getafe in La Liga on Saturday, a result that kept them eight points clear of Atletico Madrid with nine games to play. Neymar scored twice with Lionel Messi also on target, despite missing another penalty, as Barca surged to a 12th straight league win. Luis Enrique's men are unbeaten in 37 games in all competitions dating back to October and look destined to reach the quarter-finals for the ninth straight year.


Barcelona - Luis Enrique (ESP) -- 45 yrs

Arsenal - Arsene Wenger (FRA) -- 66 yrs

Leading scorers in all competitions:

Barcelona - Luis Suarez (42 goals)

Arsenal - Olivier Giroud (20 goals)

Group stage performance:

Barcelona - Winners of Group E ahead of Roma

Arsenal - Second in Group F behind Bayern Munich

European Cup/Champions League best performances:

Barcelona - Winners in 1992, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015

Arsenal - Runners-up 2006

Other honours:

Arsenal - 13x English champions, 12x FA Cup, 2x League Cup, 14x Community Shield, 1x European Cup Winners Cup, 1x Fairs Cup

Barcelona - 23x Spanish champions, 27x Spanish Cup, 11x Spanish Super Cup, 5x European Super Cup, 4x European Cup Winners Cup, 3x Fairs Cup, 3x Club World Cup

Previous meetings:

Barcelona 1 Arsenal 1 - 1999/2000 Champions League group stage

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 4 - 1999/2000 Champions League group stage

Barcelona 2 Arsenal 1 - 2005/06 Champions League final

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2 - 2009/10 Champions League quarter-finals

Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1 - 2009/10 Champions League quarter-finals

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1 - 2010/11 Champions League last 16

Barcelona 3 Arsenal 1 - 2010/11 Champions League last 16

With inputs from AFP

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