We pick out five ways in which Arsenal might focus on in helping them overcome the sternest of tests when facing reigning Champions League holders Barcelona in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
Having not got past this stage in the last five years, manager Arsene Wenger and his players know they will have to be at their best to stand any chance of eliminating a side bursting with talent.
Wenger feels preparing his side to face Barcelona is easier than against Hull in the FA Cup. And ahead of the clash, TEAMtalk looks at the main factors which Arsenal must focus on if they’re to get past one of the most gifted sides the game has ever witnessed.
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson admitted last week that just saying the words Messi, Suarez and Neymar was ‘frightening’. But the Gunners’ current crop will be hoping to avoid any nightmares when they come up against Barcelona’s trio of attacking players who boast 91 goals between them already this season. Wenger has described them all as “top, top class” players and he knows he will need goalkeeper Petr Cech, as well as the whole side in general, to be vigilant in defence if they are to shut-out the goal-hungry forwards.
MESSI v CECH
Speaking of Cech, the experienced campaigner will be looking to extend a remarkable run against Messi; with the World Player of the Year drawing a blank against the stopper every time they have faced one another. That is eight games in which Cech has not conceded to Messi – a man with 300 goals to his name – and if he can stretch that to nine on Tuesday, it could give Arsenal a much better chance of victory.
HOPING ALEXIS CAN HAUNT HIS FORMER CLUB
Alexis Sanchez has not been able to rediscover his best form since returning from a hamstring injury last month but the Chile forward will be looking to show his old employers what they are missing. The 27-year-old left Barcelona for the Emirates Stadium in 2014 and has become an integral part of Wenger’s plans in north London. If he can get back to his best and add to his one goal in 2016 so far, it will be a timely reminder that the Spaniards let a world-class talent leave the Nou Camp.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
Wenger has spoken at length this season about the experience his squad now possess – no longer are they young, precocious talents with an air of naivety. And the Frenchman will be hoping his players can prove this by not throwing away the tie in the first leg, as they have done so many times in recent seasons. AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Monaco have all picked up big first-leg victories over Arsenal and, despite desperate rescue acts, the Gunners have not been able to over-turn such deficits. Wenger will not want to face a similar challenge this year.
GETTING GIROUD BACK AMONG THE GOALS
Olivier Giroud was on hand for the Gunners in their hour of need in Greece in December. The France striker hit a hat-trick as Arsenal beat Olympiacos 3-0 to sneak through the group stages following a disastrous start to the campaign left them needing to win by two goals in Piraeus.
Since then, Giroud has scored just five times in 14 appearances and is without a goal in his last seven games – can a return to Champions League football inspire the 29-year-old back to his best on Tuesday night?
The Gunners frontman will be in direct competition against Gerard Pique – and much of Arsenal’s hopes will centre around hoping the France striker can win this particular head to head.