Barcelona poised to finish off Arsenal in Champions League
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona has just about everything in its favor.
The Catalan club leads Arsenal 2-0 heading into the second leg in the Champions League, boasts one of the best attacking lineups in history with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, and is riding a Spanish record unbeaten streak of 37 games across all competitions.
Still, Barcelona manager Luis Enrique called on his players to maintain their focus for the match at Camp Nou.
“This is not a match for anyone to relax,” Luis Enrique said on Tuesday. “We have a good result, but if you concede an early goal it can create doubts. Our goal is to play the best we can and play better than Arsenal, which is tough.”
Here are some more things to know about Wednesday’s match:
Barcelona is eyeing a repeat of its treble of European Cup, Spanish league and Copa del Rey titles from last season largely thanks to its awesome three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
The star strikers have scored 103 goals between them this season, 33 goals more than the entire Arsenal team.
Suarez leads the way with 42, followed by Messi’s 35 — despite missing nearly two months out injured — and Neymar with 23.
“Barcelona’s magicians will demand a good defensive performance from our side,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said.
The only flaw in their intimidating attack is their perplexing lack of aim from the penalty spot.
Messi erred for the fourth time this season during a 6-0 rout of Getafe on Saturday. Neymar has also missed four times from the spot, and Suarez twice more.
That may mean Arsenal’s slim chances of pulling off an upset rest of praying that somehow, someway the match goes to a shootout.
“It is only anecdotal, something that is surprising for all of us, but that is football,” Luis Enrique said. “I am completely convinced that we will score penalties.”
IF HISTORY MATTERS
All the precedents point to Barcelona moving on.
Seeking a 10th consecutive home win in the Champions League, the Catalan club has never lost in Europe after getting a 2-0 away win in the first leg. Of its last 36 home matches in Europe’s top tournament, Barcelona has won 29, drawn six and lost only once, to Bayern Munich in May 2013.
The last loss anywhere in any competition came on Oct. 3 at Sevilla. The team’s last loss at Camp Nou was against Malaga in February 2015.
A look backward only gets bleaker for Arsenal, whose last victory on Spanish soil came a decade ago.
The English club lost the last two times it faced Barcelona in 2010 and 2011, in addition to the 2006 final. It has also never overturned a first-leg home loss in European competition.
“I think we have maybe a 5 percent chance to qualify,” said defender Laurent Koscielny, who Arsenal said on Tuesday was back on the squad.
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
Arsenal is nursing several injuries to important players, including Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The hosts will only be without defender Gerard Pique, who is suspended for one match.
WHEELS COMING OFF
Lose in Barcelona and the anger toward Wenger will intensify.
This season, Arsenal had the perfect platform to dominate in England with Chelsea in decline and Manchester rivals United and City in erratic form. But Wenger has seen Leicester and Tottenham race ahead of Arsenal in the title hunt.
Wenger said the only advantage his side will have is that its mission will be clear: go forward in search of goals.
“We have gone through a disappointing spell and it is important to remain calm and strong,” Wenger said. “We are in a position where we don’t have to calculate too much. We know we have to attack and score goals.”