We’re back with another edition of The Crossfire! This time we travel to London where Arsenal host Barça for the first leg of Champions league round of 16. We caught up with Chris of Gooner Talk, who shared his views with us. Representing Culés in this debate is Shekhu “the troll”. Let’s hit it!
totalBarca: How do you think your season has gone so far?
Shekhu: It has been a dream run for the club this season. It won’t be an exaggeration if we say that this team is defining a new era in football. A team with home-grown players, hitting five goals past other teams at will (*cough* Real Madrid *cough*). The intensity at which the team plays – both attacking and defending – on and off the ball – is unbelievable. Everything is just perfect. Having said that, it should be noted that a lot of hard work, risk and commitment has gone down in making this team.
Chris: Very well, indeed. We’re in the final of the Carling Cup and still challenging on three fronts. I wouldn’t say that we have set the league alight this season, I don’t think any team in particular has. Added to that, our luck with injuries has improved this season. Key players like Robin van Persie have managed to stay fit so far, giving us a much better chance of winning some silverware at the end of the season.
How are the respective squads shaping up for this tie?
Shekhu: It goes without saying that El Capitan will be missed in the game. He’s a true champion, never gives up an inch. Apart from his defending, he will be missed as a leader! I hope he comes back for the second leg. However, I expect Abidal to take up CB spot. To be honest, he has been our best defender so far this season.
My Barça line-up would be: Valdes; Alves – Pique – Abidal – Maxwell; Busquets – Xavi – Iniesta; Pedro – Villa – Messi.
But we may see Busi slotting up in the defence and Abidal on the left to tackle Arsenal’s pace from the wing.
Chris: Samir will be in the squad but he’s likely to be on the bench. He wasn’t even expected to be involved in tomorrow’s match, so it’s a near miracle that he’s started training already. Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen are the only main injuries, while Tomas Rosicky returns from a groin problem and Bacary Sagna is suspended.
My predicted Arsenal XI: Szczesny; Eboue – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy; Fabregas – Song – Wilshere; Walcott – van Persie – Arshavin.
Where do you think the game can be won/lost for your team?
Shekhu: On the ball, simple. Both teams like to keep possession and always show eagerness to have the ball and attack. Chances will come for both sides, it will be a game of attack not the kind of game which other English teams have played against Barça. The team which can keep the ball more, will create more chances.
Chris: A lot has been said about pressing Barcelona and I think that is probably the best way to beat you. Sporting Gijon showed at the weekend that the Barça side is far from perfect and has its own defensive faults. Carles Puyol’s absence will also be a massive boost for Arsene Wenger, especially as you’ve got no like-for-like replacement for him.
Who have you got your eye on in Arsenal’s team?
Shekhu: The board has got eye on Cesc (just kidding). In my opinion, it would be van Persie. He’s got pace, lethal finish and could be very difficult to contain on the break.
Chris: I expect Alex Song to have a terrific game tomorrow. He’s come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of seasons, complimenting Cesc Fabregas in attack as well as breaking up play in defensive midfield. He’s also added goals to his game this season, which is something that Barç a should look out for. Theo Walcott caused you all sorts of problems in last year’s games, while Fabregas and Robin van Persie are obvious matchwinners in their own right.
Who, other than stating the obvious, do you think Barcelona’s danger men will be?
Shekhu: It’s a tough choice but as you have asked someone other than stating the obvious, that is Xavi, Iniesta or Messi. I would like to point out Sergio Busquets. He has developed into an excellent defensive midfielder. His positioning and anticipation is second to none. It’s like he always seems to know where the ball is going next. His role will be very important in keeping the possession.
Chris: Pedro really excites me as a young, attacking player. He’s another prime example of Barça’s fantastic youth system and he will definitely pose a problem to Gael Clichy on Wednesday. The midfield three of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta is a mouthwatering prospect to watch, but as an Arsenal fan, pretty scary to think about. If we can contain those players, then the supply line to Messi will be cut, something that the Arsenal players would have been working on in the build-up towards the game.
You’re not going to get away without talking about Cesc Fabregas! What do you make of Xavi’s latest comments saying that “he has to end up” at Barcelona, and do you think Barcelona will make another bid to sign him in the summer? And can Cesc end up going to Barcelona this summer?
Shekhu: Ah I expected this question. Yes, the board will bid for him but for how much, I don’t know. And honestly I don’t see value in this transfer; both financially and in sporting terms. Barça already has a top-notch midfield and any addition to it will have to sit on bench. Of course, there can be rotation but in important matches like this one or Clásico’s one of these three: Xavi, Iniesta or Cesc will have to sit on bench. It will be a travesty to spend that much money as it is being talked about on someone who may not be in automatic starting line-up! If at all Barça wants to buy Cesc I would rather wait till 2013 or 2014.
Chris: I can’t see Cesc going anywhere this summer, whether we win trophies or not. Barcelona don’t have the funds to afford him, so I can’t see how any move would happen in the near future. However, I’m sure the speculation will continue throughout the summer just like it does every year.
With the big money signings of Torres and Carroll, where do you see Arsenal’s transfer policy now? Will Arsene Wenger change his policy and look for big money signings especially if Arsenal doesn’t win any trophies this season?
Shekhu: I don’t think Arsenal needs to change anything, they have a good model and have succeded in the past. We have seen many times that money doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Arsenal just need to find the right balance between the youth and experienced players.
Chris: The boss will never change his philosophy or transfer policy. He’s even admitted that if Arsenal were taken over by a billionaire owner, he still wouldn’t want to fork out £30-40 million on a player because it is morally wrong. I agree with him as well. Our youth development system is second to none, players like Jack Wilshere and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas are fantastic examples of homegrown talent produced by the club. When Wenger wants to spend, he does, as we saw with the acquisition of Andrey Arshavin for almost £17million. It’s just a matter of keeping a balance in the squad, not buying players for the sake of it.
And finally, what’s your prediction for the match?
Shekhu: I’d expect a 1-2 away win for Barcelona but will be happy with a draw with one or two goals.
Chris: I don’t like predicting games, especially when my own team are involved. If we press Barcelona and play as a unit for the whole 90 minutes, I’m sure the result will be positive
A big thanks to Chris for being part of The Crossfire. It was a pleasure having you on totalBarça.