3rd October 2015. This was the date FC Barcelona last tasted defeat, on match day 7 of the La Liga, in a 2-1 away defeat to Sevilla.
Following that defeat, they have been unbeaten in 18 La Liga Matches (15 wins, 3 draws), 8 Copa Del Ray Matches and are now in the tournament’s final against Sevilla (6 wins, 2 draws) and 4 Champions League matches (3 wins and 1 draw). That’s a run of 30 matches without tasting defeat, with victory in 24 of them, making a club record for the longest unbeaten streak. It’s a bit scary that in 30 matches 90 goals have been scored. The Barcelona defence, which seemed shaky and porous at the start of the season have tightened up, and the team are keeping clean sheets more often. On 23rd February, they travel to North London to take on Arsenal in the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League. They last met in 2010/11, when Barcelona overcame a first leg away deficit to take the tie at the Camp Nou on route to the coveted trophy. The question is, can Arsenal overcome the powerful Catalans?
Firstly, Arsenal are a part of a tough Premier League campaign, 2 points off the summit in a possible three-way battle for the title. They are still in the FA Cup, leaving them with fewer matches to rest their top players. Mentally, Arsenal have not gone past the round of 16 since 2009/10, when Barcelona eliminated them in the quarter-finals. While The Gunners have overcome most of their annual injury problems, players just returning from injury are not likely to be 100% fit. They do possess the quality but their backline may not be able to hold off the Catalans. However, on the break they possess some quick and lethal attackers and they have the most creative midfielder in the form of Mesut Ozil.
Barcelona on the other hand, have the most lethal and creative attack in the world. The MSN trio, each of which have scored more than 20 goals and assisted more than 14 apiece. Messi is now back to his best following an injury lay off in the early parts of the season and Suarez has been phenomenal. The midfield of Barcelona are at full strength and commanding games. This has been shown through the performances of Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and now Adra Turan. Their defence, while not exactly the best in Europe, is now more reliable and is capable of scoring and providing for goals, as Dani Alves and Jordi Alba have demonstrated for the latter.
The question is, can Arsenal use home ground advantage and take an unlikely win? There will be 4 pivotal battles. Firstly, the ability of the goal keeper to keep three of the most talented strikers at bay. Luckily, the Gunners have one of the best goal keepers at their disposal and he would more than earn his transfer fee worth if they are able to maintain a clean sheet.
Secondly, Arsenal will need their backline to hold firm against relentless Barcelona attacks. This might be a tough ask given the prowess of the MSN Trio. Thirdly, Arsenal have to try and control the midfield, not allowing Barcelona to get into their stride. It will be vital to playing on the rare built up attacks. Fourthly, their attacking players need to be quick, as the Barcelona defence is not the quickest. Every quick counter attack should be utilised to the fullest.
On the face of it, Arsenal are not the favourites and Barcelona are on a long winning streak. However, this is football. Tables can turn any moment. Arsenal getting anything short of a 2 goal margin means Barcelona are going to be favourites to progress still.
Sports is such an amazing passion.