Do I have any legitimate reason to back up this prediction? Not really.
I just have a feeling, y’know? There’s never really a good reason to predict any team beating Barcelona these days, but the part of me that wants to believe underdogs Arsenal can do it is just screaming louder than my admittedly often-dormant logical side.
But just for the sake of competing with all the other sports websites out there, I’m gonna give you a few barely-logical, utterly predictable and mostly gut-inspired reasons:
1. Barcelona are tired
Having seen Barca toil for most of the season to wear down eleven-men barriers crowded around a penalty area like a KTM station during rush-hour, I believe the best team in the planet might be getting a little tired. (Take whatever I say here with a pinch of salt though. This is based mostly on what I see from La Liga match highlights)
Xavi and Andres Iniesta haven’t been at their brilliant best, which is perfectly understandable considering they (and four other Spain internationals in the team) spent most of their summer winning and celebrating the World Cup, and they are the heartbeat of Barcelona. Lionel Messi can still steal the game with a moment of brilliance, but don’t bet your house on Barcelona dominating against an Arsenal midfield brimming with a confidence that comes with having players like Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas (who claims to be fit enough to feature) and Jack Wilshere.
2. Problems at the back
Carles Puyol is injured. And Gerard Pique (aka the new Mr. Shakira) is suspended. That’s a huge blow for Barcelona, who will now have to take Sergio Busquets away from the defensive midfield position he occupies so well and plonk him in the heart of defense alongside left-back Eric Abidal (an experiment Barca tried out against Valencia recently).
If Robin van Persie is passed fit (and he has made the plane to Spain, and declared possibly fit to play), I can’t see Busquets, Abidal or the rarely-used Gabriel Milito keeping him quiet for the whole game. On his current form, all RVP needs is one chance to score, and I believe he will get it.
3. Missing leader
Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has been suffering from a slipped disc and is said to be in extreme discomfort, requiring five days of hospital treatment before being released for the Arsenal game.
The famously workaholic coach had been working through the pain barrier for a couple of weeks now, but the pain became so unbearable after Barca’s 1-0 win over Valencia about a week ago that he had to be hospitalised.
It’s not often a manager gets injured, but if losing a star player to injury is bad, imagine what it’s like losing a manager. Guardiola has already been forced to miss training sessions, and has only just recovered sufficiently to lead his team out for the game tonight.
4. Hungry Arsenal
Jack Wilshere (and the rest of the team) will be up for this game after Pep Guardiola’s alleged dig at Arsenal earlier today.
Who knows how much Guardiola’s comments were twisted and mangled by the British press, but the direct quotes as published by the DailyMail aren’t pretty:
He can be a great player for Arsenal and England. But we have many types of player like him in the second team.
He’s lucky, as Arsenal have time. There is not the pressure to win titles as quickly as possible. We have second-team players like him.
Other more respectable sources report the comments in more favourable light, so who knows who to believe? Soccernet published his quotes like this:
Wilshere is a top player. He has been a big surprise. I did not know him at the beginning of the season. He is an excellent player, not just Arsenal, but also for the national team.
We have many players like him in our second team. It is very good news for football to have players like him.
Either way, players like Wilshere, Nasri, Fabregas and van Persie are hungry. They have everything to prove. The likes of Xavi, Iniesta and even Messi have appeared jaded at times. David Villa is still fired up having only joined this winning machine in the summer, but Barca can’t rely on him alone.
Arsenal, on the other hand, will be all fired up to make ammends for their Carling Cup loss. It’s no exaggeration to say that their season hinges on this game, and I for one, would like to see them win it.
Javier Mascherano has declared that Lionel Messi could score five against the Gunners this time around.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never really like Mascherano (great player, but annoying as hell), but that’s just plain stupid. It was totally disrespectful to his opponents. You wouldn’t appreciate it if Jack Wilshere came out saying Robin van Persie would score five against Birmingham before the Carling Cup final, would you?
I understand that Mascherano probably meant it as a compliment to Messi, and not an insult to Arsenal. But still, that’s a pretty daft way of putting it.
If players like Mascherano think they can just show up and Messi will waltz past everyone and score five, then they’ll be in for a shock. That’s the kind of over-confidence that Arsenal’s youngsters would love to bring down.
Plus, Barcelona’s league form hasn’t been as ominous as it was previously. Apart from a 3-0 defeat of mid-table Real Mallorca, Barcelona have only managed three victories by one-goal margins and a draw in their last five matches. So is Messi suddenly going to score five, against Arsenal? He could, but it’s not likely.