Arsenal V Barcelona Preview Part I – Mentality And Approach

Arsenal come up against tournament favourites and the best club team in the world at the moment in the second round of the Champions League. In this article I just want to discuss the mental aspect of this game and will cover the tactics and starting eleven in the next one.

How do Arsenal approach this game? Do they go on the pitch with an all out attacking mindset with the hope of taking Barcelona on at the pressing game? Or should the Gunners play with a conservative approach which is unnatural to them but is the only style that has worked against Messi and Co.? Is there a middle path that would allow defensive solidity and attacking impetus to co-exist?

Personnel from both sides have acknowledged that last season Arsenal showed Barcelona too much respect at the beginning. I thought the Gunners were unsure of their approach and were caught on the back foot. The visitors carved them open time and again in the first 20 minutes. For a while it looked like a contest between top professionals and schoolboys. But the crucial fact that must not be forgotten is that this dominance lasted only for that 20-25 minute period. And more importantly, Arsenal did not concede a goal despite being ripped apart.

In the remaining 150-160 minutes the tie was a lot more balanced. Guardiola’s men dominated the ball but didn’t cut Arsenal apart as often as the initial spell. Despite that the crucial fact is that they scored 6 times in this time compared to the 3 managed by Arsenal. The key difference in that period was made by the individual genius of Messi.

I’m a fan of the Barcelona manager. I like his intelligence and honesty. Guardiola knows how special Messi is and what a big difference he makes to their side,

We wouldn’t be who we are now without him. We’d still be a good team, but this guy is at a different level. All history’s great teams have had a special player and that’s what Messi is for us.

Messi takes an excellent Barcelona team to a truly astonishing level. And that provides further mental challenges for Arsenal. Normally one would not expect special attention for one opposition player, but when the player under consideration is arguably the worlds best in the last couple of decades, it does merit serious thought. Without Messi this game would be same as playing other big teams like Man United or Chelsea. But with the Argentinean in the opposition, it’s a much bigger challenge.

The comments from Wenger and some of the Arsenal players have been interesting.

Arsene talked about special focus and an attacking approach,

I believe, if we manage to get them under pressure, we will create chances. Ideally that is something we can work on before the game. Sometimes you have that extra special focus in these kind of games which makes you more efficient, so hopefully we have that.

The question at the Nou Camp you can wonder is will we change the way we play? But here [at Emirates Stadium], we will try to play to our strengths. We will try to attack the other team.

If we play in the final third defensively, we will not only be happy, it will not be our game.

I don’t know if we can read much from those comments but I can assure you Arsenal will not do an Inter.

The interesting point that Wenger makes is about the ‘extra special focus’ that the players should have in such a game. Depending on the player’s mentality it can work as a boon or a burden.

For instance, if the players are fired up and go out to enjoy themselves while doing the best they can and not worrying about the result, it could turn into a very positive performance. They’ll take more risks, make better instinctive decisions and moves, and will make less mistakes

In contrast, if they feel the pressure of getting a result it could become a nightmare. In such a case every mistake would compound the pressure. We could see the same problems we’ve seen in the other big games resurfacing. Playing with a hand brake on against a side like Barcelona can be the most tortuous form of suicide.

I think the key here is the subject of the ‘extra special focus’. If it’s on the performance it should be positive. If it’s on the result it could be a problem. This is similar to the philosophy of the Bhagavad Geeta. I had discussed this in a different context last year, for details read this article.

So far, based on the comments I have read, the players are quite positive about this challenge. But the real test will come during and after the game. Not only will it have an impact on Arsenal’s chances in the Champions League, the performance and result of this tie will also have an impact on the other trophies that the Gunners are challenging for.

Personally speaking, I’d like to see Arsenal play with a nothing-to-lose mentality. That does not mean we should go for all out attack in a tactically naive manner but we should take this as a test of how we can perform against the best. If the Gunners acknowledge they are not the best team in the world just yet (something most realistic Gooners will agree with) and there is no shame in losing to a better side featuring one of the game’s all-time legends, this performance can be a benchmark for future improvements and even an adverse result can have a positive impact on the other challenges. Obviously, a positive result will provide an even greater boost. They key point here is that with such an approach, in neither case will the outcome of this tie drag the players or the club down.

Even with a nothing-to-lose mindset Arsenal will have to work hard during the game and will need a phenomenal tactical and technical display. I will discuss my thoughts on those aspects in the next article.

And just in case you’re wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of mentality and approach, just watch the Chelsea performances at the start of the season and compare them with those in the last couple of months. The players are not very different but the performances and results are. I put it down to the mental aspects of the Chelsea players as well as the opponents who no longer hold them in awe. It’s a hidden and intangible aspect of the game but it makes a distinctly discernible difference.


33 Responses to Arsenal V Barcelona Preview Part I – Mentality And Approach

  1. Domhuaille MacMathghamhna says:

    Excellent analysis of what Arsenal need to focus on in terms of mental and attitudinal priorities. Looking forward to your second article!

  2. Duttlenheim says:

    We are a completely different team from last years tie. I expect a big, big performance from Koscielny. He is much more suited to play a team like Barcelona then Blackburn. His excellent anticipation will break up alot of the Tika taka balls from midfield. Our speed is light years ahead of barca, they are rather slow at the back. If Nasri plays opposite Walcott then look out. I say go toe to toe and if we lose then we tip our hats and move on to EPL, FA and CC final. But there’s no doubt we can cause them just as many problems as they can cause us.

    PS I expect Cesc to be in quite a mood and if he scores, he will kiss the badge sending us into dreamland

  3. samir nasri says:

    good analysis. absolutely correct about a positive mentality, certainly we can’t sit back, but we do really have to defend intelligently.

    i think in this game we will get a really good idea of the (current) abilities of our two young center-backs

    one thing i can’t agree with you on is this statement

    “but when the player under consideration is arguably the worlds best in the last couple of decades” of course you say arguably. but i don’t think it’s even arguable on a day when the great ronaldo has retired from football, he has inspired so many from my generation and generations past. long may his football technique inspire!

  4. T2T says:

    Unless Nasri is completely fit – don’t use him. We are looking to be without 3 of AW’s first pick (Vermaelen, Sagna and Nasri) but their replacements are doing just fine:
    Szczesny
    Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy
    Song, Wilshere
    Fabregas
    Walcott, v Persie, Arshavin
    Subs: Almunia, Squillaci, Gibbs, Diaby, Denilson, Bendtner, Chamakh
    The speed and athleticism on both sides (Eboue/Walcott & Clichy/Arshavin) will give Barcelona plenty to think about. Djourou and Koscielny have developed a fine understanding and are both technically skilled CBs with an excellent passing qualities. The energy of Wilshere combined with his passing, the best playmaker in EPL in Cesc and currently the hottest striker in EPL – van Persie; we have nothing to fear. IF our players show up, even without Vermaelen, Sagna and Nasri, we’re more than capable of hurting Barca.
    With two teams that really don’t know how to defend deeply, I can easily see quite a few goals scored; 3 – 2 to Arsenal.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      We are better off without Vermalen he caused two goals at the Emirates last season. Though Almunia was blamed for everything it was Vermalen’s faults . It could have been because of Song too but i feel we are better without him atleast for another 6 months. Then we can consider whether he is an automatic starter or not.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        I don’t know if you’ve seen arsenal more than once to say that vermaelen isn’t a definite starter. he’s arguably among the top 3 defenders in the league. name me 3 defenders(with footballing reasoning for your back up) who are better than vermaelen. i’ll give you hints: look for
        1. aerial ability
        2. strength
        3. leadership at the back and reading of the game.
        4. calmness on the ball(not many defenders have it, vermaelen has it as an added bonus)
        5. pace
        6. distribution of the ball from the back(better than even ferdinand imo).

        get your facts right.

      • SomeRandomGunner says:

        @Hong
        1. Aerial ability – Both of our defenders win more headers than Vermaelen.
        2. Strength – unmeasurable , if Drogba is benchmark then Koscielny did better.
        3. Leadership – Not sure what you mean we conceded huge number of goals in counter attack we dont concede as many this season.
        4. Calmness/Distribution on the ball – Koscielny has 2 assists Djourou provided some awesome long cross field balls.
        5. Pace may be Djourou is bit slower but not Koscielny.
        6. Which you have not mentioned last year he made much much more mistakes than Koscielny this year. Barca game is one example.

        Vermalen being one of the 2 CBs last in EPL is more like Rooney being the player of the year ahead of Drogba and Cesc, nothing more.

        Only thing is may be he scores more from
        set pieces.Koscielny has 3 goals and Djourou has one.
        And Vermalen wants to attack and goes forward unnecessarily , Liverpool game comes
        straight to mind we were defending 1-0 with 5 mins our CB runs forward to attack.

        It is just he was romantic for the goals and he got injured this season for long time obviously whoever is not present is always better. Whatever you have talked are certainly not facts.
        On average Koscielny wins more tackles and makes more interceptions than Vermaelen.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        mate, understand the footballing terms before coming up with remarks such as “vermaelen is not good enough”. distribution of the ball = 5 or 6(or even 10) good cross field balls?? wtf !

  5. MSL says:

    So far the players have made the right kind of noises. The one that stands out for me is from Song: “The reference point for us has to be the Chelsea match from December, when we pressed them very high from the first minute and gave them no room. ” We already have a template and the good thing about it is , we are not the favorites.

  6. Arsenalisto says:

    What do you guys think? Was Busquets rested in weekend to play CB against us or was he saved for Cesc? lol Cesc will nutmeg him left and right anyways 🙂

  7. Greencard usa says:

    I certainly agree with the mental disposition you mention; but I also think the sustained mental state depends on what happens as things progress. In the last game I got the impression Barca appeared to “pulse” in a very particular way: with incredible swiftness they converged and tightened the game when they lost the ball and when they won the ball again they diverged with similar swiftness. In both moves they appear to keep their shape admirably. If we fail to similarly keep our shape in attack and defence all over the field this I think may very well affect our mental state as the game progresses.

  8. ashish says:

    I have done lots of analysis on Barcelona’s game and tried to came up with the differences between the two. Although both teams play 4-3-3 formation on paper and many experts believe that we play similar style of football.

    But the key difference lies in the way wide players play the game.
    In case of Barca the wide players(Villa and Pedro) as they are natural strikers and not wide players come more often into the 18 yard box and have more shots on goal then our wide players this is where eboue and Clichy needs to perform brilliantly.
    Whereas Arshain and Walcott play most of the game near the touch line and making the pitch as big as possible.

    This is where I think the game will be won and lost.Our full backs needs to be more alert and really need to perform at there level best and try to clear the ball to either walcott or arshavin who can run in space behind the if barca commit more bodies into the box.

    2-1 to arsenal in the first leg for me with goals coming from counter attacking situations

  9. santori says:

    It’s not to Arsenal’s advantage to play defensive and hit on the counter. Rather we need to be smart about ur game.

    As you mention, if we can translate defense into attack quicker, this will be the key.

    And we need to (as per usual) be absolutely clinical in front of goal.

    Finally, we need to not be afraid of concseding goals whilst retaining our vigilance at the back. If we play with fear and handbrakes on, we will piss away our chance.

    Like you said, there’s no prssure as we have already been written off so we have nothing to lose here.

  10. Dark Prince says:

    Superb Analysis. All i hope is that we dont suffer any injuries this game. Last year, we lost Cesc, Arshavin and Gallas all in one barca game. Hopefully this time it should not happen. Also as you said, the mental hangover should not be carried on for the rest of the season. If we lose, we should consider it as a stepping stone to improve more rather than becoming a devdas and sulking the rest of the season about it.

  11. SomeRandomGunner says:

    I think Pique would be the difference between the teams like last tie at home. Arsenal will press the midfield may be RVP will take Busquets but i dont think we can press till Pique. Most likely their CBs will have more time on the ball and Pique is the most dangerous with ball in their defense.

    Still i feel we will score atleast 2.

  12. Arsenal4 says:

    it should be interesting game … we should fancy our chance, albeit this will be the toughest team to face.

    I think the key to win will be pressing high up and try to force Barcelona lose possession – in which Arsenal successfully did it again Chelsea. Stamina and mentality will be the key role – when we are on defensive we must attack the ball. Koscielny should excel in this game.

    If Arshavin play – i hope he will raise his defensive play by 2-3 bars.

    Can’t wait for the game!

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  14. Phil23 says:

    Imo the game will be won or lost by both sets of fullbacks as stated on an earlier post. With Barcas shape and organisation I still think they will have more possession of the ball. This is not necessarily what will decide the game although I have read many posts claiming this. I think that we are much more dangerous on the counter as we have three players who absolutely thrive in the situation, Arshavin, Van Persie and Walcott. Barca of course have similarly good counter attacking players but the difference is in the defence. We have one of the quickest back lines in the world while Barca have Puyol injured and other than Dani Alves, a comparatively slow back line. Imo if Sagna was not out I would be backing Arsenal to win at home but with Eboue we have an unknown quantity. Do yourselves proud Gooners and cheer on your team like never before! For our pride because of what Barcelona did to us in the summer and just because if we win even one of the two games it could spur us on to the premier league, F.a and Carling cups!

    • oleguer says:

      Pique and Abidal aren’t slow. The fake Ronaldo who now plays for Madrid has found it impossible to run away from Pique in the last few Classicos. Abidal is no slouch either. Walcott may be fast but i doubt can get past Pique or Abidal with the ball at his feet. His close control is poor and Pique and Abidal are very good at picking off attackers who ‘kick and run’ like the fake Ronaldo, Walcott, Lennon etc.

      • Messi's dad says:

        i feel what Arsenal needs to do is to press Barca tight inside our own half. this will encourage their backline to play a high line to support their attackers (if they are not already doing so). that’s when a simple counterattacking tactic would be most effective (e.g. 2nd goal vs Wolves), bcos of the following assumptions:

        – Barca will dominate possession
        – because of possession, they will dominate space, most likely from the centre circle onwards well into our half
        – whenever we manage to wrest back possession, we can expect the Barca attackers to quickly close tight to regain possession, and they do this very smartly, ie, several players closing off available options together, rather than just one guy chasing the ball (this discipline IMHO is the current Barca’s most amazing characteristic)

        B’cos of the above, in theory, there ought to be sufficient space in Barca’s half for Walcott to exploit. And for the quick counter, we don’t need him to show very good close control – a simple, reasonably accurate punt into no man’s land (behind the backline, yet risky for Valdez to rush out), to basically start a footrace between walcott and the barca backline.

        Route 1 “English” football, i readily admit. however, these guys are not going to be afraid of our passing. IF it’s effective and threatens barca, we should just keep repeating this process ad infinitum, until (a) we score, or (b) they adapt tactics to nullify this.

        at the very least, this should put the fear of walcott into their backline (including fullbacks), so hopefully they would not support their attackers as closely as normally, and this would hopefully have follow-on implications on their general pressing, and building on this, our guys would have more time on the ball to “show ’em our stuff”!

        heh, seems like walcott would play a huge role eh?

        some other caveats/notes:

        – walcott should preferably try not to shoot too early as i have the impression he likes to do on 1 v 1s, rather than trying to commit the keeper, round him and slot into an empty net (Henry was the King in this area, he always knew when the keeper had committed)
        – for variation, we always need a 2nd runner (RvP, Arshavin, Cesc, come to mind as the most likely guys) to decoy or score
        – the whole intention of the tactic is to create a situation where Walcott is at the end of the pass which leads to the footrace. no point for Walcott to do his often used spinning-and-sprinting thing too early (the thing where he receives the ball deep in our half, lays off to someone, spins around and sprints off down the flank drawing someone with him).

        of course, there are countless factors and infinite scenarios, but hopefully the above works.

        sorry for the long post, just a rambling thought. keen to read your next article, Desi.

    • Hong_gunner says:

      “Imo the game will be won or lost by both sets of fullbacks as stated on an earlier post.”

      funny thing to say considering the fact that both the teams try to keep the ball and build a narrow play through the middle as much as possible.

  15. I believe in Arsene and Arsenal but take it from me, the Barca game is coming too soon for the Gunners. The catalan giants cannot be a better playing team than they presently are. That 5-0 bashing of Real Madrid is the best one-sided football I’ve witnessed in my life time. And believe me, I’ve watched plenty!

    Last time at the Emirates, even though the game ended 2-2, Xavi and co taught us real football lessons – lessons Arsene learnt well enough. That’s why Arsenal have fast-forwarded in development. Whatever happens, Barca are too hot, experienced and almost perfect for a positive-playing Arsenal to out-do in two legs. All I care for is avoiding another disgrace like that first 45 mins at the Emirates last time.

    I’m happy no Barca player has mentioned the name of Jack Wilshere. He’s the most positive thing Arsenal will be taking into the game and I hope Guardiola will notice just too late. Jack’s big heart and great skills even place him ahead of Fabregas in this tie. Why? Because he’s fearless, rises admirably to the big occasion, much faster than Cesc and most important, they’d never see him coming.

    If this was a one-off final, then perhaps… but it’ll be a miracle for our still-growing squad to knock out this Barca team over two legs. However, I’m hoping we’ve improved from the pathetic display of last season.

    And getting knocked out early enough will give us some better focus on the EPL, which I genuinely believe we’ll lift this term, thanks to Barca’s education last season.

  16. manJohel says:

    All u need to do is copy sporting gijon last weekend.they gave Barca a tough time,though with some bit of luck.But it was difficult for Barca to break them down,they pressed as much as they could,put Barca offensive players under pressure and did allow messi too much time and space on the ball.
    If we can do that,and have a bit of good luck as well, then we can actually win the game(we’re better than sporting Gijon who got a draw anyway,so a win isn’t beyond our reach)

  17. Kushagra India says:

    Lookin forward to second one Desi have a gr8 one and Com’on Rosonneri…

  18. Hong_gunner says:

    about the mental approach, yes, you’ve brought a good read forward. big games in football, big exams for students, big decisions in life – they all need a positive approach for them to come true. and this read draws me near a bit more for the fact that i work as a psychiatrist and am currently trying to learn my trades into football management. they are pretty co-related. we will be on a definite high with the run we’ve had and the recent spanking of wolves. but lets not kid ourselves, barca will be looking at the skies all the way to the Emirates as they have had a 16 game unbeaten run. such are the things which bring confidence and a positive approach to the team.
    but having said that, we shouldn’t fear them. “not to give them too much respect” isn’t any worth discussing as it is as clear as the blue sky. where we have to focus and be mentally strong is to press them in their half as a team without any fears of being hit on the break, aided by good defensive solidarity at the back. and that’s where i feel Jack’s role is so so vital. song will have to guard the halfway line, no doubt, but the areas of the barca half Jack chooses to press will make or break our midfield, imo. Cesc is absolutely vital with the ball, there’s no doubt about it. but Jack needs to go into challenges/cut down passing channels with intelligence to give cesc a better chance of dominating the midfield. I trust Jack, with the mature head that he has, but this is a big big test for the kid. I expect us to give a good account of ourselves at the groove. this could be a massive moment for few of our players to make their mark on the european stage.

  19. abacha-gunner says:

    hello fellow fans, the catalans took advantage of our weak second team last season and trust me, we have absolutely nothing to fear since we have learnt from our mistake that they are not going o ge the respect they enjoyed last yr..they can only put threat on the teams in the la liga not team in the form of arsenal… just imagine when they play against chelsea who we always dominate possession over them but barca suffer to beat them when they meat..see, we have developed individually and collectively, fabregas gives passes that make assists but xavi only completes short passes most..fab scores often but he does not, what else does he have that cesc doesn’t.. wilshere plays exactly like iniesta dribbles, assist even better with killer passes that iniesta cannot give ..lets be bold and chere the gunners coz no team to me is superior when it meet gunners.. up gunners…happy to hear frimpong likes ghana we are proud

  20. Willy Kamanzi says:

    Once again great post from Desi, looking forward to read your next one about tactics. Come on you gunners!

  21. Ajinkya says:

    This game is a confirmatory test for our improvement. We are now a better team than last season.
    Frankly, speaking they are capable of playing extremely accurate one touch football, where some of our players may fall short. So the defense will have to be tight and playing high up can cost us.
    As Desi has rightly said, nothing is lost even if you lose the game. After all the defeat comes at the hands of a good team, and not someone with anti-football agenda.
    We must look at this game through a positive frame. Our players have their own positives, and they must concentrate on giving a good performance rather than worrying themselves thinking about the reputation of the opponents.
    Messi has to be blocked out. Abidal and some players were rested in their last game, which is, I believe, was for the game against us.
    We can. Come on!

  22. mike in africa says:

    you don’t have to play conservative to beat barca; some teams that have really troubled barca this season have come out pressing and attacking. atheltic bilbao, villareal and real betis are 3 good examples. arsenal could go all out attacking and pressing, if arsene have the confidence to do so, which is what i’d like to see; alternatively, a more conservative approach that try to catch barca on the counter could also work, though lacking a bit of balls, is an option too.

  23. Claver says:

    Desi,
    Just what is happening to the Arsenal Youth and Reserves? Where has the football gone? particularly with the youth team. Is that cupboard looking bare?

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