Barcelona and Arsenal seem to have a familiarity which makes it feel as if they meet more often, a feeling that comes from playing styles built around technical midfielders, similar faces in jerseys and a will to strive for footballing perfection.
Numerous players have gone in either direction over the years, most famous of which was Frenchman Thierry Henry. Whether it is Arsene Wenger or any Barcelona manager, players who switch between the two have a good idea of the intensity and technical precision that both sets of coaching staffs expect from their players.
Barcelona have come calling on eight occasions for Arsenal first teamers, most recently for Thomas Vermaelen. Among the eight, Henry became a regular starter while taking a backseat to Ronaldinho and a prodigious Lionel Messi and Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Marc Overmars carved out nice roles over several seasons. In the cases of Vermaelen, Alex Song, Emmanuel Petit and especially Aleksander Hleb, one must wonder if they lament ever leaving their starting positions at the Emirates to sit on the bench or be loaned out by Barcelona.
The last of the eight is the man that went in both directions in current Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Growing up in La Masia with Gerard Pique and of course Messi in the fabled class of 1987, Fabregas was given an early indication of the things that would be expected of him at the Camp Nou.
When Cesc chose to head to the Emirates as a teenager, Wenger was able to groom him in the way that only the Frenchman can, helping the young talent to become one of the top midfielders in the world. When the prodigal son returned to Catalunya, however, he found that the expectations of him were much more grandiose than he anticipated.
While Cules are divided on whether or not Fabregas was a mild success or a full-blown failure at Barcelona, it can’t be denied that the Catalan serves as the prime example of what makes it so easy to find similarities between the clubs. In the same breath, he also serves as the prime example of what makes the clubs so different.
Both clubs excel at developing youth, and Arsenal have been all too eager to help La Masia develop their talent, albeit to be future Gunners. Hector Bellerin has burst into the London first team after making the switch at 16 with midfielder Jon Toral, currently on loan at Birmingham City. Ignasi Miquel and Fran Merida also made the switch to Arsenal, though they were never able to find a place in the first team.
While Bellerin’s story is still largely to be written, Arsenal’s biggest and most recent gain from Barcelona is often forgotten because of how easily he was replaced at the Camp Nou. Alexis Sanchez served as a good compliment to Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro in his time at the Camp Nou, scoring 35 goals in 78 games. He chipped in 18 assists, worked hard defensively and made Barcelona around €42 million when he was sold in the summer of 2014 after only costing about €25m in 2011. His 22 goals in 53 games at Arsenal have continued what has been a successful career for the Chilean and Barcelona will pay close attention to the motivated left-winger throughout their tie.
Luckily for Barcelona, Sanchez’s replacement in the summer of 2014 is the reason that Cules haven’t lamented his sale on many occasions. Luis Suarez may have cost close to double the price of the Chilean, but Suarez has also produced close to double the goals and has recorded double the assists that his South American counterpart contributed.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said before the clash at the Emirates that he believes Barcelona is close to perfect. He then added in separate comments that Barcelona’s vulnerable spot is their defense, like any offensive team, including Arsenal. Due to the first leg being in London, Wenger and company were desperate not to allow Barcelona a coveted away goal -- and will be devastated to have fallen 0-2 in front of the home crowd.
In hindsight, some think that Arsenal should have parked the bus and attempted to defend for the entirety of the match. In this dreaded, unaesthetic scenario, the London unit’s offensive attack would have been limited to Mesut Ozil looking for Olivier Giroud on the counter-attack with a ball over the top of Barcelona’s defence. Either way, the Catalans superiority would have been enough for the visitors to secure the victory.
Looking forward to another positive result against Arsenal at the Camp Nou and achieving qualification for the quarter-finals!