Arsenal have not got past the last-16 of the Champions League for the past five years and, after they were drawn against defending champions Barcelona, few have given them hope of breaking that trend.
Ahead of the first leg at the Emirates Stadium we take a look at the major talking points and what the Gunners need to do to upset the tiki-taka Gods.
Good luck! Former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson said last week that just saying the words Messi, Suarez and Neymar was “frightening” and there’s good reason – the attacking trio have scored 91 goals between them already this season. That’s more than double what Arsenal have managed in the Premier League. Wenger has described them all as “top, top class” – no prizes for understatement there – and he knows it’s more a case of coping with Barca’s forwards rather than stopping them outright. Any defensive frailties will be exposed so Arsenal can ill afford to leave that task only to the back four.
Messi v Cech
Here’s a stat to fill Arsenal hearts with hope. World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has never scored when Petr Cech has been in goal. That is eight games in which Cech has not conceded to Messi – a man with 300 goals to his name. That run includes *that* penalty miss in the second leg of *that* Champions League semi-final against Chelsea four years ago. If Cech can stretch his record to nine games tonight then Arsenal might just head to the Camp Nou with high hopes of progression.
Alexis to haunt former club?
Alexis Sanchez has not been able to rediscover his best form since returning from a hamstring injury last month but the Chile forward will be looking to show his old employers what they are missing. The 27-year-old left Barcelona for north London in 2014 and has become an integral part of Wenger’s plans. If he can get back to his best and add to his one goal in 2016 so far, it will be a timely reminder that the Catalans let a world-class talent leave.
Getting off to a good start
Wenger has spoken at length this season about the experience his squad now possess – no longer are they young, precocious talents with an air of naivety. And the Frenchman will be hoping his players can prove this by not throwing away the tie in the first leg, as they have done so many times in recent seasons. AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Monaco have all picked up big first-leg victories over Arsenal and, despite desperate rescue acts, the Gunners have not been able to over-turn such deficits. Wenger will not want to face a similar challenge this year.
Can Giroud get back among the goals?
Olivier Giroud was on hand for the Gunners in their hour of need in Greece in December. The France striker hit a hat-trick as Arsenal beat Olympiacos 3-0 to sneak through the group stages following a disastrous start to the campaign left them needing to win by two goals in Piraeus. Since then, Giroud has scored just five times in 14 appearances and is without a goal in his past seven games – can a return to Champions League football inspire the 29-year-old back to his best on Tuesday night?