The Story of Arsenal vs Barcelona: Will Arsenal ever beat Barca?
Arsenal and Barcelona are frequently compared among football fans with their similar football styles; high possession rate, tiki-taka, total football, and etc. Both teams, almost every season, record highest ball possession rates in their corresponding leagues. Iniesta once said “I think Arsenal still play the best football in England. They play in a style in the way that most emulates what we do in Barcelona – and what is in our opinion the right way to approach the game … their football philosophy is the most attractive in England.” As shown in this comment, one of the greatest products created by the Barcelona system obviously has respect for Arsenal’s football and also admits that Arsenal is somehow imitating Barcelona’s style. On the other hand, Arsene Wenger has spoken out to the fans to dismiss such claims that he is trying to copy Barcelona’s football several times. Yet, as a light fan’s point of view, I certainly cannot deny the similarities I see from those two teams.
As much as these two teams have similar styles, fate has been playing naughty between these two teams in Champions League. The first major match-up between Arsenal and Barcelona that I remember vividly is the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League Final, where Barcelona won its second European Championship. Since then, they have met in Champions League three times (including this season’s round of 16), all in early rounds of knockout stage. The first two encounters that happened consecutively in 2010 and 2011, were all Barcelona’s victories. This year as well, with Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Arsenal in the 1st leg at Emirates Stadium, even Wenger is predicting 98% Barcelona’s advance. Every time they meet, Barcelona is playing the bullying big brother that smashes his little brother. What an ill-fated relationship for Arsenal fans.
Regardless of the consistent one-sided outcomes, the matches between these two teams have always been highly anticipated by football fans around the world as they were considered as a collision between two beautiful footballs based on fantastic team plays. However, stories lose interests from people if the ending becomes too foreseeable. And the story of Arsenal and Barcelona is becoming an example of that cliché.
Undoubtedly, Arsene Wenger would be the one to feel that frustration most directly. I believe, the most recent match, the first leg of 2015-16 round of 16 showed Wenger’s frustration and anguish. Wenger seemed to have changed the game plan. Maybe he finally felt that it is impossible to break Barcelona with Barcelona’s game plan. This time, Arsenal gave up their style. Their ball possession rate was only 32%, far below their average ball possession rate in Premier League, which is around 56%. The new game plan was closer to a 4-4-2 formation, which Arsenal has not been using that much recently. It was pretty obvious that Wenger was aiming for a tight defense and counter attack.
The first half seemed like it was going well. Arsenal’s tight defense was not letting Barca players to display their creativities and some of their counter attacks mostly based on Alexis Sanchez’s mobility gave enough threat to Barcelona. Yet, as numerous opponents of Barca have shown so far, second half was a different story. One who chases the ball gets tired earlier than the one who possesses the ball. And Arsenal was not an exception. Arsenal in the second half of this game definitely looked like a person wearing someone else’s outfit.
Yes, Arsenal still has a second chance at Camp Nou. They just have to beat them 3-0. Even Wenger is saying that Barca will eventually make it to the next round by 98% chance. When will Arsenal finally find the way?