Ducky’s Note: Swaroop S is a huge Arsenal fan (we seem to have quite a few of them around don’t we) and among the most active members of the EPL community here in India. He currently works for a well-known media house, but he has promised us that his heart lies with BigFourZa Here he delves deep into the forthcoming mouth-watering Arsenal-Barca clash, and comes out with matches within the match that we should expect.
The UEFA Champions League has seen many hyped up battles over the years – some lopsided, others worthy of the occasion. On March 31st 2010, there will yet an other chapter written in the annals of its history when two proud footballing clubs – arguably the two most aesthetic sides in Europe – compete against each other at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium.
The last time these two sides met, it was in the finals of the ’06 edition. Jens Lehmann was sent off and Barcelona inevitably won – that particular encounter did not to live up to the box office success everyone was predicting, so there would be cautious optimism from nuetrals when they predict thrilling football – instead of the belligerent opinions which Guardian and Marca ran before the match – of how football would be the ultimate winner before the match.
The fortunes of the two sides have seen some curious readings since that night. Arsenal lost Henry, Barcelona lost Ronaldinho – but since then – Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi have emerged from the shadows to truly replacing their clubs’ former talismen’s convincingly. The cast may not be representing an ensemble, but for the performers, extras, and the orchestrators, this will be one game where there will be enourmous pressure to satisfy the nuetrals.
Barcelona are at the height of their footballing prowess while Arsenal at the lower rungs of the table trying to do a Barcelona. From that commentaroy alone, the victory should be the masters rather than would-be-master, but this game has lots of glourious sub-plots waiting to unfold. Like a 1,000 year old page entirely on papyrus, it will need to be unrolled and read carefully because of the innumerable sub-plots and scenes to it.
Sub Plot No 1:
For Cesc Fabregas, it will be much more than just captaining a young side whose fortunes revolves around the outrageousness of Cesc, it will be playing against his former club, but more importantly – against his potential employers, as Cesc has talked about going back to Camp Nou at sometime. Therefore, Cesc’s audtition might come a week later at Camp Nou in front of 90,000 Catalans, as opposed to playing in front of 60,000 Londoners.
For Lionel Messi, who has scored three hat-tricks (the last against Real Zaragoza at the time of writing) in his last four games, it could well be his greatest test yet. The Primadonna of this Barca side, without a shadow of doubt, Messi’s record in England is not the best. He has failed at Old Trafford and did not have a great game at Stamford Bridge a couple of years back. Yet another show from Messi – this time at the Emirates – could just put Messi as the ultimate footballer.
Sub Plot No. 2
Arsene Wenger’s youth project: As soon as Arsenal announced its move to build a new staidum, the economist in Wenger started building the foundation rather than buying the foundation. His youth project and his acumen, although having earned wide plaudits, has not won anything tangilble. His greatest side, The Invincibles of 2003-2004, did not have any of the Wenger kids. To be pitted against a Barcelona side would be the ultimate test for his project. A win would take his project into the next level – winning the cup, while a loss would be another E next to the assessment report at the end of the year (discounting the league this season)
Sub Plot No. 3
The development of Arsene Wenger: Wenger’s European tales has lots of stanzas – some distorted and jumbled, others riddled with metaphors of improbable victories. His coaching talents notwithstanding, his tactics have always come up a cropper against the big European sides bar two over the last five years – Real Madrid and Juventus. For one reason or the other, naive or daft or simply ridiculous, his tactical brains don’t switch on at the right moments. Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea – an obvious theme developing here – Bayern Munich et al have all slayed Wenger’s european dream for a want of better tactics.
Arguably, his greatest opportunity came in the 2004 edition, but was castled by Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea in the quarterfinals. A victory over Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona might not really be the comeuppance of Wenger’s tactics in European nights, but it could be the start of something hitherto unknown in Wenger’s CV – a victory against the odds in Europe.
There are various other little sub-plots like a little pesonal rivalry between the two nordic strikers on view – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nicklas Bendtner. How will one Mr. Thierry Henry handle it emotionally or will do what he did against Juventus, score a goal. Will Arshavin deliver on his first big European night or will Bojan Krkic come of age.
The stage is set for a night of grandeur and excellence but will Arsene Wenger’s class of 2010 achieve what their more illustrious seniors fail, or will they become another pawn in Barcelona’s quest to become the first footballing side to win back-to-back Champions League titles since AC Milan 20 years back.