Arsenal came face-to-face with Barcelona in the final of the 2005-06 Champions League, but despite being beaten by the Spanish giants, they held their own and were good value for their place at Europe’s top table.
Since then the Gunners have failed to challenge for significant European or domestic trophies, while the Blaugrana have etched their place as one of the most inventive, dominant and exciting teams in the history of our sport. So, what do Arsenal need to do to compete at Barca’s level once more?
It is worth mentioning that Arsenal also beat Barcelona in the first leg of a Champions League tie back in February 2011, before losing the away leg at Camp Nou.
Despite indifferent form in recent seasons, the Gunners have some immensely talented players in their ranks, and look to play attractive, possession football – similar to the Catalans. However, a number of key elements are missing if Arsene Wenger’s men are to progress.
Be a buying club, not a selling one
Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Alex Song. Four influential players; four players that were amongst Arsenal’s best, before being sold on to the disbelief and dismay of the supporters. Ironically enough two moved to Barcelona, but with the exception of Nasri, the other three have not been replaced.
Although contract situations, commercial factors and personal agendas may well play their part in deciding a player’s future, the fact of the matter is that Arsenal have sold their best players over the last three years.
Would Barcelona ever sell Lionel Messi, Xavi or Andres Iniesta? It sounds simple and it is – Arsenal must keep their top players if they are to find the consistency that will allow them to challenge for honours.
Invest in the London La Masia
The great Arsenal teams of the past have been full of homegrown talent, however the current squad is an amalgamation of players from all over the world. A leader on the football pitch is invariably emotionally linked to the club he plays for, and Arsenal are crying out for a new Tony Adams or role model figure for the rest of the side to rally around.
Barcelona’s core is their youth system, with the bulk of their players graduating from the La Masia academy. Arsenal have produced one such star in recent years in the form of Jack Wilshere – with Wenger’s eye for talent, it would pay to invest money in their youth set-up to complement foreign imports.
Find the new Patrick Vieira
Much is made of Barcelona’s possession football – so much so that it seems like they almost don’t need top defenders or a dominating defensive midfielder. However, in the background, going about his business, is Sergio Busquets.
His qualities are not as apparent as others in his position around world football, like Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso, but he does the unpleasant work that allows the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas room to move.
Arsenal’s Invincibles team had arguably the best defensive midfielder of a generation in it in the form of Patrick Vieira. The combativeness, energy and stature of the France international gave the Gunners a bite in the centre of the park that has never been replaced.
Alex Song brought other qualities to that role before being sold, such as enterprise and an eye for a pass, however the North Londoners need another big personality in front of their back four to get back to being a top team.
Mikel Arteta is a stopgap and is suited playing further forward – Arsenal simply do not have a player in their ranks currently to break up a Barcelona tiki-taka passing triangle or go face-to-face with Roy Keane in the tunnel.