IT’S HERE ALREADY!

There is now no escaping it. What has been foretold for centuries before by our wise forerunners will come to happen this very night. And even if there is no full moon this night in London, this is still going to be a spectacle to behold.

This will be a night talked about for decades to come. A night our generations unborn will relive continually for decades more. A night by which our children will ask many years from now ‘Where were you when Arsenal played Barcelona at the Emirates in 2011?’

Now that I built up sufficiently, with no hyperbole I must say, to the cracker of a game coming up in a few hours in North London, let’s get on with the game preview.

As Arsenal take on Barcelona in the first knockout stage, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made of last year’s quarterfinal clash which the Catalans won 6-3 on aggregate. A match also that the Londoners were outplayed and outthought over both legs.

But taking the comparisons into this year’s clash would be a mistake. Firstly, because although both teams would be wearing the same strip they wore that night, there have been significant personnel changes to both teams; well at least to Arsenal.

Starting from the back, Arsenal have a young and some say inexperienced but his manager says fearless, Polish goalkeeper instead of the error-prone Spanish one they had last year. Also they have a brand new central defensive pairing that appears to be jelling instead of the makeshift and unfamiliar one that they used that night.

For the Catalans on the other hand, the only major change has been the replacement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (the scorer of the both Barca goals in the first leg) with David Villa. The shaky Victor Valdes is still in goal and they can’t call on Carlos Puyol to impede any Arsenal player from a making a goal bound shot.

Another reason why I think that this match would be a different kettle of fish, to use a British idiom, is that a team particularly one as good as Arsenal learns as much, if not more, from its defeats than it’s victories. And after seeing the way they were played off the park last year, I’m pretty they have a few lessons or two.

Also, recently we have been provided with models of how to and how not to play Barcelona. The mauling of Real Madrid was an apt example of how not to go about it when the Catalans are in town. Surrendering possession easily, playing a high line and not counteracting their pressing game are the opening lines of a death warrant.

But as Inter last year and Sporting Gijon last week showed, doing the exact opposite is the way to dull the attacking brilliance of this team. And of course finding a way to score on the counter would come in handy.

So that is it. The template for an Arsenal victory is set. And the match promises to e an exciting one for fans of both teams and for neutrals alike. Let’s hope it lives up to all our expectations.

Till later.

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