Arsenal host Spanish giants Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night for the first leg of the stand-out tie in this year’s Champions League last 16 round.
Luis Enrique’s side have been in impervious form this season, establishing an eigh point lead in the La Liga table at the weekend with a 2-1 win over Las Palmas and having already reached the Copa Del Rey final.
Arsene Wenger’s side represent their first big European test of the campaign, with the Gunners likely to be buoyed by their recent return to form domestically and putting themselves right back in the title race with a 2-1 win over Leicester City.
However, the North London side failed to find the back of the net in their FA Cup fixture at the weekend against Hull City, with the Tigers forcing them to a replay. The Gunners lack of penetration and end product will be of some concern heading into a fixture of this magnitude.
Barcelona the unstoppable force?
The central topic surrounding the build-up to the fixture has been whether this Arsenal side can halt a side who have been so prolific all season and have produced football of the highest standard.
Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr. and Luis Suarez have created quite possibly the greatest offensive trio in the sport’s history, already amassing 91 goals between them in 2015/16, only 32 short of their total from the previous campaign. Sergio Busquets is also arguably in the form of his career and the Spaniard is highly regarded as one of the focal points in this Barcelona setup.
Arsenal’s defence will have to put in a perfect performance if they are to halt what is almost a footballing force of nature, with a lot of onus on Per Mertesacker to prove his countless critics wrong. The German put in a commanding display against German giants Bayern Munich in a 2-0 victory, so fans will be hopeful that the giant defender can replicate a performance of such quality
Mesut Ozil will once again be key to offering the Gunners an offensive supply route, while Alexis Sanchez returns to face his former club for the first time and the Chilean will be eager to impress after a disappointing spell of form recently.
Recent meetings have been exciting affairs
These two sides have had a habit of meeting each other in the knock out phases of this competition with the Spanish side having the edge in recent match ups.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last two games against Barcelona at the Emirates, drawing 2-2 back in 2010 after being two goals down and then going on to win 2-1 a year later with a memorable late winner from Andrei Arshavin.
The Gunners went on to be eliminated both times, with Messi himself scoring five goals in the matches at the Nou Camp, which included a four-goal virtuoso display.
Interestingly though, the Argentine has never scored past current Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech during his days as Chelsea’s loyal custodian.
Arsenal have no fresh injury concerns heading into the fixture, with Gabriel Paulista ruled out as expected after sustaining a hamstring injury in training.
Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are still ruled out but Danny Welbeck is included in the squad after making his long-awaited comeback.
Barcelona also have no new injury concerns with Rafinha the only long-term absentee. However, Arda Turan is suspended for the game and therefore has not been included in the squad.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.