[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ix top-class teams have already booked their places in the Champions League quarter-finals, with the remaining two to be decided tonight in mouthwatering clashes at the Camp Nou and the Allianz Arena.
Reigning champions Barcelona go into their round of 16 second leg clash with Arsenal as overriding favourites and rightly so given their 2-0 aggregate advantage and the scintillating brand of football they have played over the last 15 months.
The stats suggest that Arsène Wenger’s team stand little-to-no chance.
Since a Lionel Messi double edged the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Luis Enrique’s men have played four La Liga games, won all four, scored 17 goals and conceded just two.
The Catalan giants have now not been beaten in 37 games in all competitions, with 31 of those fixtures seeing victory being recorded. Arsenal by comparison have only won one of their last seven games and that was against Hull City.
Of the 22 games Barca have played at Camp Nou this season, no team has scored twice against them.
The last time this happened was the final day of last term in a dead rubber 2-2 draw against Deportivo de La Coruña, with the hosts having Copa del Rey and Champions League finals still to play.
In the 30 games at Camp Nou before that, spanning back to May 2014, only Getafe and Villarreal have managed to net twice – and neither won the game.
However, as intimidating and daunting as the current European champions’ recent record is, if anyone is going to pull a miracle out of the bag, Arsenal have as good a chance as any.
Few would question the star quality and attacking flair of a Gunners side that on their day are as good as anyone in Europe but are riddled by inconsistency.
Arsenal have had Barcelona as their nemesis for the last decade, with the Catalans beating the North London side in the Champions League final in 2006 and eliminating them from the competition twice since then.
However, the Gunners did beat the Blaugrana at home in 2011 and in the reverse leg the travelling support felt aggrieved when Robin van Persie was questionably shown a red card with the score locked at 1-1.
Wenger’s men have also beat Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich twice since the start of 2014, once at the Allianz Arena.
As such, it is time for the Gunners to rid themselves of the nearlymen tag; a moniker that has many suggesting that the North London side only play to their absolute best when a two-legged tie is already all-but unsalvageable or a title challenge has passed them by.
A host of factors will have to come into play if Arsenal are to do the nigh-impossible and get a result that would eliminate Barcelona.
The hosts will have the vast majority of possession, as always, and as such the Gunners will need to defend resolutely and take their chances to strike at pace on the counter attack.
Barcelona were visibly rattled by a high-pressing style adopted by Wenger in the first leg in London and denying Sergio Busquets and the hosts’ centre-halves time on the ball will be a pre-requisite here also.
Unfortunately, even the most well-hatched plan can be undone by a swing of Lionel Messi’s left boot and doing everything possible to limit the Argentine may still not be enough.
Sometimes football can be over-analysed and some things just cannot be explained or rationalised. As such, Arsenal’s best hope of progression may well be plain old-fashioned luck.
With the Premier League title still to fight for, irrelevant of the result, a positive and gutsy showing is needed for the London club to kick on into the business end of the campaign.
Barcelona enter the game as overwhelming favourites but every record has to come to an end at some point.
However, a lot has to go right for Arsenal if the Catalans are to suffer their first defeat in 38 games, with even more fortune needed for a 2-0 or 3-1 scoreline in favour of the visitors.
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