What: Champions League (Round of 16)
Who: Arsenal v Barcelona
When: Wednesday 16th February, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England

Revenge mission

In last season’s quarter-final, Arsenal were outpassed and outclassed by Barcelona, losing 6-3 on aggregate. The first half at the Emirates was especially humbling as the Gunners looked timid and barely strung two passes together. It left a sour taste in the mouth for Arsene Wenger as his players were beaten at their own game.

But Wenger’s men will take to the field on Wednesday full of confidence. With Robin van Persie in fine goalscoring form and Cesc Fabregas eager to impress his former club, the Gunners believe they can make amends for last season.

“I can’t deny we showed them too much respect last season,” admits the Arsenal boss. “Barcelona are maybe better this season than last season but so are we. That will make the game even more interesting.”

Arsenal shot themselves in the foot during the group stage, dropping sloppy points and finishing second behind Shakhtar Donetsk. While topping the group would have presented an easier last 16 clash, there could be no bigger boost for the Premier League run-in than a victory over Barcelona.

Attacking masters

Any team with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta has little to fear and Barcelona have shown few weaknesses this season. Top of La Liga by eight points, despite Jose Mourinho’s best efforts at Real Madrid, Barcelona have world class players all over the field. This would not have been Barca’s first choice last 16 tie but an open, attacking game will suit the Spaniards and they have good memories of their trip to North London last season, even if the game finished 2-2.

But that was almost 12 months ago and Pep Guardiola’s side will be taking nothing for granted. “Arsenal frighten me, but that is true of all the clubs in the draw,” explains the Barcelona manager. “It should be a fantastic game because we are two very similar sides. They are a very bold, daring team, a side that forces you to defend very well.”

The Catalans breezed through the group stage, winning four and drawing two while scoring 14 goals. The pain of losing in last year’s semi-final will be a major driving force as Barcelona bid to navigate their way through the knockout rounds.


Recent form

Arsenal 2-1 Everton
(01/02; Premier League)
Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal
(05/02; Premier League)
Arsenal 2-0 Wolves
(12/02; Premier League)

Almeria 0-3 Barcelona
(02/02; Copa del Rey)
Barcelona 3-0 Atletico Madrid (05/02; La Liga)
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Barcelona (12/02 ; La Liga)

Key absences

Samir Nasri (doubt), Thomas Vermaelen

Barcelona: Carlos Puyol (doubt)

Players to watch

AC Milan – Jack Wilshere: Wenger knows what he will get from van Persie and Fabregas but Jack Wilshere’s role in midfield will be pivotal as Arsenal try to wrestle possession away from Barcelona’s array of playmakers. The youngster has blossomed into a talented all-round midfielder this season but this will be his biggest test to date. Defender Laurent Koscielny has had his critics but can prove a point in his battle with Barcelona’s David Villa.

Barcelona – Lionel Messi: The 23-year-old forward is the obvious dangerman for the visitors, having ripped the Gunners apart last year. He will be marked tightly but has the talent to create a chance at any moment. The Argentine’s change of pace and close control will already be giving Wenger nightmares. As Barcelona’s quarterback, Xavi‘s performance will undoubtedly go a long way to deciding this tie. Arsenal will look to harry him but the little Spaniard is rarely flustered with the ball at his feet.

Match Prediction

Last season proved that going back to the Nou Camp all-square was not enough for Arsenal, who will look to attack in numbers on home soil to gain an advantage for the second leg. But this will leave space for Barcelona on the counter attack and play into the hands of Messi and Villa. With Arsenal’s back four still not solid enough to conquer Europe, expect to see the Spaniards silence the Emirates with a priceless away win.

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