Arsene Wenger on drawing Barcelona in Champions League

December 18, 2010

Wenger nonchalantly predicted that we would get Barcelona in the round of 16; and we did get them. Most will be dreading the outcome, but in terms of football, it will be a masterpiece. We certainly will be the underdogs but let’s not forget we can beat anyone on our day. We have always been written off in such matches, remember AC Milan and Real Madrid, and we have always surprised the world. Let’s hope we put up a great show when the time comes as Wenger puts it very nicely that it will be difficult but possible.

All teams are difficult to play at this stage and Wenger wasn’t hoping for any particular team.  Although Schalke would have been an easier opposition in comparison to Barcelona, who, certainly are the favorites to win the Champions League.   

“My reaction is very simple – difficult but possible.

I didn’t want anybody really, in that all teams would have been difficult. You could have said that Schalke – a team with less history in the Champions League – would have been easier maybe. But the advantage is that we will be on our toes and we’ll be ready.

Barcelona are certainly the favourites [for the competition] and a famous team but, on their side, they did not want us either because they know they will get a game.”

With almost two months to the tie, Wenger said that he can’t say much on the match and how they will approach it. As far as the team is concerned they will be ready to face Barcelona when the time comes. At the moment Stoke is the priority for Wenger. Wenger although doesn’t have revenge on his minds as he only wants to qualify by knocking Barca out.

We have a realistic chance too as most of our injured players will be back to playing their best by then and we have done improvements in most areas from last year.

Wenger feels that the best possible way to beat them will be to build up confidence by doing well in the Premier League, Carling Cup and FA cup.

“Revenge is not on my mind. We want to qualify and we want to knock them out. So is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Yes.

I think we are better than last year and we have a good opportunity to show that. I won’t come out on [how we will make it a different game]. What is on my mind right now is Stoke tomorrow more than Barcelona.

We are in the middle of December and we play at the end of February. So there is a long way to go.

It is too early to speak about this game concretely. You can just speak about the draw. The whole context might be completely different in two months. We don’t know what we will do and how we will feel.

But the best way of going into that game with confidence is down to what we do from today until then. If we do well in the League, the FA Cup and the Carling Cup that will give us the best chance of knocking them out.”

Arsenal vs Stoke preview: To hell with Barcelona, it’s Stoke + starting eleven

December 18, 2010

Most of you will be thinking about the Barcelona tie. I say to hell with them, we have more important matters at hand and we must focus our attention towards that. Its Stoke tomorrow, the return of the thugs led, none other than, by Ryan ‘not that kind of a guy’ Shawcross.

Much has been said on the Ramsey incident already and I won’t go into that. As for what the crowd does to Shawcross, I don’t care. What I care about is that we win by scoring plenty of goals. And incidentally we will go top again, and if Chelsea does their job we will stay there.  

As it is Stoke, expect lots of long throws, long balls, pushing, shoving, kicking, tackles and everything you can imagine to try and put us on the back foot.

To counter it, we would need our midfielders to support the defense every time the ball is with Stoke. The second ball is what we need protection against and the midfielders will come into play a lot tomorrow. If we can shut them out in the middle by keeping possession, they won’t be much of a threat then. Provided we score on the chances we get and keep it disciplined at the back, we will get the result.

As for the team, Djourou needs to start tomorrow. He has been excellent in the air and we will need that. To partner him I would go with Squillaci. Clichy has come under a lot of fire for his performance against Manu. As Desigunner proves it here and I agree that it was the lack of support on his flank that led to that side being exploited. And since there is no word on Gibbs yet, Clichy is going to start. Sagna to occupy the other flank.

The latest on Fabianski is that he is to undergo tests, in other words he won’t start. As a result Szczesny will be in goal. He was impressive against United; showing confidence, making saves and catching whatever went down his way. We will need the same type of performance as there will be plenty of long balls tomorrow.

In the middle, Fabregas needs to start as the match with Chelsea is next and we need him to get some playing time. Song and Wilshere to support him. Both of them will need to be alert by providing cover for the defenders properly.

Upfront, I feel it’s time now to give Van Persie a start. We need him to get his form back as it is vital for our campaign. To partner him, Nasri is a certainty to start. This leaves only one place and I can’t decide between Arshavin and Rosicky (although Arshavin is edging it at the moment).  Rosicky will offer us cover at the back while contributing upfront also. Arshavin on the other hand is a game changer and despite not playing well in the last match, will always be a danger.

And I have not forgotten Walcott. I believe that he offers us more when he comes on as a substitute. He along with Chamakh to start on the bench.

So my starting XI would be: Szczesny, Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Wilshere, Nasri, Van Persie, Arshavin

No predictions for tomorrow. However, I would love to see plenty of goals and a clean sheet.

Come on Gooners!! Let’s show Stoke how proper football is played!!