The Weekly Ramble: Arsenal Paired With Familiar Opposition for Champions League RO16

I’m glad to be writing my first blog for The Gooner Ramble with Arsenal sitting pretty near the right end of the table. Even though Leicester just overtook us at the top by beating Chelsea, the feel good factor is definitely back in the Gooner camp after a miserable November.

There’s only one place to start, and that is the Champions League draw that took place on Monday. No surprise to anybody, we have drawn against the holders Barcelona. There’s no doubt it’s the worst possible draw we could have gotten. At the same time, this is what being in the Champions League is all about; we’d come across a big team one round or another. We’ve had probably our poorest Group Stage performance this season but we still managed to somehow get out, and this is our consequence. Still, I’d rather us be playing Barcelona at the top tier of European competition than FC Midtjylland on a Thursday night. If we somehow manage to beat Barcelona, I think we will be serious dark horses. If we go out, then it will give us an opportunity to focus on the league and possibly go on a strong run until the end of the season.

I would say that Barcelona’s current goalkeeper, defense and midfield areas are similar in terms of quality from the Barcelona team we faced in RO16 of 2011. Their major upgrades from that team 4 years ago have come in the front three; they’ve gone from Villa, Messi and Pedro to Suarez, Neymar and a more experienced and better Messi. To counter that, I would say the most evident area where we have improved majorly since 2011 is our defense. We had Eboue as our right back in the home leg back in 2011 and Djourou started both home and away. Nowadays, we have two of the best fullbacks in the league and also a solid pair of center backs when playing together. One can argue that Giroud is not as good as van Persie (who was our striker in 2011) but we also got Ozil and Sanchez now. Bottom line is- sure, Barcelona are favorites to win the tie and also the tournament, but I wouldn’t be as pessimistic as many already are about facing Barcelona. Anything can happen.

Back to the weekend, I was pleased to finally witness a comfortable, routine and drama-free away win that also didn’t leave anybody crooked. What impressed me the most about the game was Flamini’s positioning. Many times we’ve seen Flamini bombing forward into the opposition box and not where he is really needed, which is right in front of the back four. On Sunday, however, I rarely saw him leave his own half. His positioning and awareness seemed much better and sharper. His breakup play was also responsible for stopping some of Aston Villa’s counter attacks. His discipline is going to be really important for the game against Man City since Ramsey likes to go forward more than Carzola would, as he’s shown with his goal on Sunday.

The clash against City this coming Monday is one that I’m really looking forward to. I consider us and City the main challengers for the title this year and everybody knows how important it is for any potential title winning side to not lose against their direct opponents. I have a sneaky feeling that Alexis is going to make the squad (I hope he’s fully fit if he does make it). Should he be in the squad and even end up starting, I’m curious if Theo would get dropped instead of Joel Campbell since Campbell is more aware defensively than Theo. And our right side is going to play a key part since City’s left side, Sterling and Kolarov, will pose a huge threat. I think Navas will start on the right for City, as Pellegrini does like including him for away to Arsenal. So probably either Silva or De Bruyne will be on the bench. Kompany missing for them is a huge boost for us, and it’d be even better if Aguero also doesn’t make the squad. To focus back on our team, I hope that we can show the desire that we did against Man United earlier in the season and discipline that we did away at City back in January (especially Ramsey and Flamini). I think we have the quality, and we have the support of our home crowd. Some bookmakers may edge City ahead of us as title-favorites due to their recent title-winning experience but I honestly don’t think anybody knows which team is going to win the league in this crazy season. The Monday night game is a chance for us to put our own stamp in this season’s title race and show the rest of the league that we are capable contenders for the championship!

 

 

Soe Latt Naing

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