In what promises to be another intriguing encounter between the two, the out-of-form visitors will be hoping to achieve mission impossible and progress into the last-eight of this season’s Champions League.
Travelling Gunners hoping for a miracle
A lapse in concentration, an unfortunate individual mistake. That’s all it can take for Barcelona‘s fearsome attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar to strike – and Arséne Wenger will be hoping that doesn’t happen when they face off once more in the return leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.
A well-taken brace courtesy of Lionel Messi in the home leg, despite a solid Arsenal team performance for 70 minutes at the Emirates, means that Luis Enrique‘s men are firmly in the driving seat – and they entertain the Premier League title contenders at the Nou Camp this evening with a strong home advantage on their side.
Away goal rule could haunt visitors too
Even if they manage to beat Barça, Arsenal could still go out of the competition. With a 2-0 aggregate deficit to overturn, the Gunners need to score two unanswered goals to push the tie into extra-time, or three to win it in normal time (e.g. win 2-0, 3-1 or 3-0 to progress in 90). No team has managed to defend the Champions League trophy in consecutive seasons since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, but the Catalan side are currently on a 37-match unbeaten run and look in a comfortable position to rewrite history this upcoming summer.
Between the aforementioned attacking trio, they’ve totalled a whopping 103 goals this term and look even more threatening than they did last year – something that Wenger will have to take into account ahead of kick-off.
Arsenal haven’t progressed past the last-16 stage of the competition since the 2009/10 campaign, and it doesn’t look likely that they’ll do so in 2016 either. They travel to the home of the competition’s current champions knowing that they’ve struggled for consistency since the start of the new year and are certainly off-the-pace in the top flight with Leicester flying high impressively at the top.
Realistically speaking, their season could be virtually over by Saturday. After being knocked out of the FA Cup in the quarter-finals by Watford on Sunday, they could be overwhelmed by Barcelona’s might in midweek and have a potentially pivotal away clash against Roberto Martinez’s Everton team – who are certainly not an easy side to beat.
Gerard Pique is unavailable due to suspension, whilst Jeremy Mathieu is expected to start in the Spanish centre-back’s spot. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will replace Claudio Bravo in goal whilst the rest of the team seemingly picks itself – unless there are any injuries/niggles in the pre-match warm-up.
As for the visitors, Arsenal are boosted by the return of Laurent Koscielny (calf), who was pictured in their training session yesterday morning. Per Mertesacker might well drop to the substitutes’ bench as a result, whilst Gabriel Paulista could remain in the starting XI alongside the returning Frenchman.
Probable starting XI’s
Barcelona: ter Stegen; Alves, Mathieu, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Neymar, Suárez and Messi.
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny; Walcott, Alexis, Ozil; Welbeck.
Arsenal will ultimately play with nothing to lose – because according to many, the tie was over back at the Emirates. You’d naturally expect a valiant effort from the Gunners but to fall short at the final hurdle – as Barcelona are widely seen as the world’s best team and even though they don’t have to score, they’ll want to impress their supporters with ticket prices understandably pricey ahead of kick-off. Luis Enrique’s men should have too much quality for the Gunners, and barring an actual miracle, could and should win comfortably.