Arsenal v Barcelona – tactical preview

March 29, 2010

Will this man...

The contest that many neutrals might have hoped to see in the final. Two similar sides in many ways – they play a similar brand of football and have both favoured 4-3-3 systems this season.

Both sides might be without their main ‘attacking’ midfielder – Andres Iniesta is definitely out for Barca, and Cesc Fabregas is a doubt for Arsenal.

One suspects that this tie is one where Arsene Wenger will be hoping to outwit Pep Guardiola, rather than vice-versa. Although both sides generally prefer open, attacking games, it’s difficult to imagine how that kind of tie would not favour Barcelona, who are plainly the better side on paper.

Barcelona have experimented with an offensive system resembling a 4-2-4 in recent weeks, but it will surely be the classic 4-3-3 from Guardiola for the first leg. Xavi is definite starter, and will be joined by two of three from Keita, Busquets and Toure. Being away from home, the first leg and against a side renowned for their passing, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Guardiola went for the latter two with Toure in a slightly more offensive role than usual, even if Keita would probably be the most natural replacement for Iniesta.

Messi will be wide-right, Henry wide-left against his former club, with Ibrahimovic probably upfront. As Sid Lowe recently remarked, Ibrahimovic may not have been as prolific as Samuel Eto’o was last season – but his true value to the side is his ability to to win games in a slightly unBarcelona way. He did that against Stuttgart when he converted a chance by winning a long, high ball from defence, and this might be another chance for him to do so, as Arsenal – a short side – famously struggle against a strong physical threat.

...be able to stop these two?

On the other hand, with Sol Campbell starting in the centre of the Arsenal defence, maybe Barcelona’s best option would be to field a small, pacey striker against him – Messi through the middle, with Henry and Pedro either side and Ibrahimovic on the bench? It wouldn’t be a huge surprise, since Henry and Messi were rested at the weekend, whilst Ibrahimovic was not, but the smart money would be on the Swede to start.

Wenger’s most pressing problem is how to deal with Barcelona’s threat on the right-hand side, from Messi and Daniel Alves. Gael Clichy – poor over the past 18 months but improved in recent weeks - will be charged with the task of stopping them, but who will be ahead of him? Andriy Arshavin is not expected to be fit enough to start, and Abou Diaby (the most natural defensive option for the left) is also a worry, and the same applies to Samir Nasri, according to the Telegraph. So Arsenal’s wide players will surely be two of Eboue, Rosicky and Walcott. Eboue’s natural position would be on the right, but his defensive awareness might be useful on the left, especially considering a right-footer will be useful when doubling up against Messi, given his tendency to come inside. Meanwhile, Rosicky is a slightly better defensive player than Walcott, although the Englishman’s speed would be more useful to exploit Barcelona’s incredibly high defensive line. Or could Wenger be exaggerating his injury worries?

With those players out, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Wenger switched slightly to a shape resembling a 4-4-1-1, with Fabregas playing higher up the pitch than usual and being the closest player to Bendtner.

Assuming Fabregas is fit and the afforementioned three are not, predicted line-ups:

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Rosicky, Denilson, Song, Eboue; Fabregas; Bentdner.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell; Busquets, Xavi, Toure; Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry.

Arsenal v Barcelona – tactical preview

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