No time to waste today, as Arsenal and Barcelona get ready for the the most important match for the clubs in over a decade.
There’s a reason I’ve kept quiet till now. For one, everyone has been talking about the pre-match hype in the media instead of discussing facts about the match and on the chances of both sides. Henry said this, Ronaldinho said that, Giovanni is an idiot, Fabregas is too good for Barca, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah….
The whole thing is sickening enough to put you off from reading the news – I’ve done exactly that for the last four days, sticking to transfer rumors and waiting for the 2006 champions league final – which, if all goes well, should be on in about 12 hours.
A quick review of both sides then:
Campbell seems to be playing at the expense of Senderos, and Cole looks like to start at left-back. An atrocious decision matched by an obvious one. Instability and recent antics apart, the man has lost his touch. If Ronaldinho can nutmeg Carvalho and Terry then he must be itching to get a chance to dodge past Mr Sol and sneak one past the angry German.
Speaking of Lehmann, people seem to forget that he has a mean streak that can cause his team a lot of trouble if they are not doing well.
Sidenote: Is that not a measure of a great side? To be able to fight fair in bad times as well as good? Or have Chelsea and Arsenal rewritten the rules when we weren’t looking?
The midfield is settled and so is Henry’s place, but one wonders what plans Fabregas, Silva and Hleb have to counter Deco and co – it’s all good for Fabregas to play for pride but Deco is not Vieira, and Barcelona are not Juve.
Lest anyone forgets, Barca overcame that high-scoring loss at Stamford Bridge last year (which included going down 3-0 in 15 minutes) to stuff Chelsea this year. A lot has been said about their defense and a certain error-prone keeper, but you don’t get to winning back-to-back La Liga titles just by being a strong goal-scoring team.
And despite dreams of Ljunberg, Reyes and Henry splitting the Barca defense, Arsenal know that their best hopes of winning the final would be to wait for Barca to make a mistake, and for this they will need to defend splendidly well. Barca would surely not mind that – they went up against the best defense in England and came away with goals twice. Arsenal can tout their CL records till they’re hoarse, but at the end of the day it’s how you play, and Barca, more so than Arsenal, are known for winning key matches.
At the face of it, Arsenal are the underdogs and seem to have ‘nothing to lose’. On the contrary – they are the ones going into this match with the most psychological baggage. Barca have already established themselves, both in La Liga and in the Champions League. They are, along with Chelsea and Milan, one of the top three European sides today.
Arsenal are serial pretenders to that title – a win here will stake their claim as serious players in Europe, whereas a loss will merely confirm that they are what they have always been – a fantastic team that falls victim to its own hype every now and then.
Barca, win or lose, will remain at the top. They are the ones with nothing to lose – They will play with confidence and, despite the talking, will play as cagey with Arsenal as they did with Chelsea. Arsenal, on the other hand, will be desperate to win – I expect them to play as they did
At the very least, this match should have the quality of the Highbury clash between Madrid and Arsenal.
I think I’m only rooting for Barca because of the traditional Man Utd – Arsenal rivalry. But that’s not it. I’m also afraid that like Chelsea’s 3-0 thumping of Utd, this win will give Arsenal the license to gloat about how good they are and how no one recognises their true worth.
I’ve been hearing that for the last five years. Please spare me.
Scoreline predicition – 2-1 to Barca.
The French have a saying – the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Tonight, in Paris, it might just turn out to be true for the serial under-achievers and officially the fourth-best team in England.