Arsenal’s Barca strategy: Containment and scoring opportunities

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be missing in the game against Arsenal which means that Dani Alves and Xavi will miss out on the big target man.
Of course, this does not mean a thing and an undersized Messi was able to nod a picture perfect Xavi cross against Man Utd in last year’s CL final for Barca’s second goal. However it means that Alves will have less of an outlet which means policing him becomes easier. Clichy has to pen him back with his forays forward keeping him honest.

Three areas in which Barca’s remains vulnerable:

Goalkeeping: Victor Valdes
Barca’s goalkeeper is much improved but he is a bit like Manuel Almunia. He does not have exceptional athletic ability and remains susceptible to lapses in concentration. In all reality he should have stopped Walcott’s first goal but he was caught out of position and reacted too late.
A few snapshots could test him and Arsenal should be encouraged to have a go at goal without overindulging their passing game.
Central defense: A more direct approach
With Barca missing out on their usual center pairing of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, the onus lies on Rafa Marquez and Gabriel Milito who have seen only minimal exposure this season.
This offers Arsenal considerable opportunity through the air and a more direct route. Sagna’s cross saw Bendtner score that last gasp goal against Wolves which should provide a template for more of the same with Clichy and Sagna providing the big Danish striker with service. Bendtner did get close on a couple of occasions at the Emirates in the first leg.
Nasri and Rosicky’s quickness could pressure Marquez and Milito into fouls giving set piece opportunities.
Left back: Walcott’s speed and going wide
Maxwell was turned inside out by Theo Walcott’s speed in the first leg. There is a chance that Eric Abidal might start in that position. But the end result is that Walcott’s speed poses problems no matter who Guardiola plays in that position. His pace poses problems not just for the Barca defense but for Arsenal their dilemma is to keep pace and get players into the forward positions for Walcott to turn provider. What Walcott’s needs is to make better decisions in a game.
Wenger might prefer to start Eboue and introduce Walcott as shock therapy in the second half.
What Arsenal needs to do to its game:
Doing more with less possession:
Against Barca, The Gunners suffered a huge possession disadvantage. 62% to 38% and in the passing game Barca enjoyed a 2:1 edge completing a mindboggling 533 passes to Arsenal’s 265 passes. However, for all the adverse statistics the match tied 2-2.
In a strange way, the first leg introduced a relatively foreign concept into Arsenal’s game- a relatively higher efficiency rate given the paucity of possession. We scored two goals off six shots on goal. This is much better than our domestic league performance when we run up the possession stats with less to show for. Given the fact that Barca’s possession superiority is reality, this will need to continue.
Physicality and strategic confinement:
What Arsenal needs to do better is to limit the Barca possession to more neutral territory. Which means taking care of Xavi and Busquets, holding midfielders who control the tempo and possession of the game before they become dangerous, and boxing out Messi from his mesmerizing inside lateral shifts. Closing down space, disrupting the passing lanes, and smart tackles. It was a relatively quiet night for the Argentinian maestro at the Emirates but you know he is due for a big one. The Gunners have to up the physicality ante and force Barca into lots of garbage possession. Call it strategic containment.
Lapses in concentration and cheap goals:
These are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, Arsenal’s strength of character comes now exclusively from its reputation that it is a second half team, actually make that the last third of the match.
True grit is very English but it is not going to win you games against a team like Barca. It is a highly overrated concept. Playing smart is far better. That means maintaining consistent levels of attention at the outset, at the end of halves, and pretty much throughout the match. The goals scored against Arsenal came not from known threats, it came from mental lapses, as players got caught out of position or failed to mark their man.
In social psychology, Arsenal is a team that thrives on external attributes to motivate themselves, a sign of a young team. Going behind brings out a reactive mode as we saw against Man Utd, Chelsea, and Barca but it is hard to come out ahead against such good teams. Far more efficient would be to eliminate the chances of such adversity coming to pass. Arsenal has to take the initiative.
Also read Emmanuel Petit for his look into how to deal with Barca >>

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