Firstly, from the Xavi interview, speaking about Spain, but easily parallels Barça:
“Paraguay? What did they do? Built a spectacularly good defensive system and waited for chances – from dead balls. Up it goes, rebound, loose ball. It’s harder than people realise when you’ve got a guy behind you who’s two metres tall and right on top of you.”
I think we all know that Arsenal totally incapable of playing like Paraguay. Also from Xavi: “But now I see Arsenal and Villarreal and they play like us.” That said, certainly Wilshere’s remarks about “getting nasty” indicate a plan, though Xavi suggests an alternate route, “Yes, but this year they’re much better. I think it’s a disadvantage for us that we played last year. They had [too] much respect for us. It was as if they let us have the ball.” So keeping the ball, Arsenal’s preferred routine in Engerland, would do them better according to one of their opponent’s key players.
Realistically, of course, given Nasri’s injury especially, we know both Song and Wilshere will play. In fact, there is little reason to suspect a different line-up than the one that played against Wolves on Saturday (which was, including substitutions: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Alexandre Song, Jack Wilshere (Pereira Neves Denilson, 77), Andrey Arshavin (Marouane Chamakh, 72), Robin van Persie (Nicklas Bendtner, 72)).
Koscielny and Djourou will have their hands full with Pedro and Villa, but the Gunners must rely on those two as Song, Wilshere, and even Fabregas must neutralize the trinity of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. Clichy, of course, must await Alves at his front. Arsenal should consider assigning Wilshere to Messi always and everywhere. Now if Pique decides to get in the mix from the back, van Persie will struggle to help, but at least that places the ball much farther back in the formation. Little will matter if Arsenal’s third-string keeper can’t handle free kicks.
Barça’s shape does provide some opportunity. Sagna must take every chance to get forward and exploit the absence of a true winger on that side. Naturally, this will help push Arshavin forward to provide a link and partner to RvP. What, isn’t that Walcott’s side? Well, certainly, the two have switched flanks, allowing Walcott all the room Alves has vacated, particularly if Wilshere and Song can lay some longer diagonals in front of him.
Should be an interesting match despite every commentator essentially writing off Arsenal since the draw.