Martin Keown's lowdown on brilliant Barca... but Arsenal can beat Spanish giants

By Martin Keown

Some people say it's impossible for Arsenal to beat Barcelona. I don't agree. It won't be easy but Arsene Wenger's side can exploit a defence missing the injured Carles Puyol, and they have the quality to cause an upset.

Barcelona move the ball better than any team in the world but I noticed certain patterns in their 1-1 draw with Sporting Gijon on Saturday that Arsenal can expose...


When central defender Gerard Pique has the ball it is the cue for the carousel to kick into gear. With Sergio Busquets often marked, Xavi moves into the right-back position, Dani Alves darts up the touchline on to the right wing and Pedro drifts inside off the touchline to near where Xavi was.

Hard to track: how Arsenal deal with Xavi (left) will have a massive bearing on the outcome of the game

Hard to track: how Arsenal deal with Xavi (left) will have a massive bearing on the outcome of the game

It causes Arsenal three problems at once and drags their players into areas they do not want to be:

1) Does Samir Nasri go to press Xavi or track Alves's run? If he goes to Xavi, Alves is left unmarked but if he doesn't, Jack Wilshere has to go to Xavi, leaving a gap in midfield.

2) Does Gael Clichy go with Pedro infield or let him go and worry about the oncoming Alves? If he follows Pedro, Alves has all the space in the world. If he doesn't, will anyone pick up Pedro?

3) Who marks Pedro? If it's not Clichy, does Alex Song risk looking after him and therefore leave Lionel Messi unmarked?

This causes the opposition to panic and, if Barcelona cannot find the ball they want, they pass back to the centre halves and the process starts again on the opposite side. It often culminates in Messi drifting deep into midfield, collecting the ball unmarked before running into the space.

Martin Keown: the solution


Wilshere or Nasri have to press Xavi, otherwise he can pass to Alves too easily. Preferably it would be Wilshere, so Nasri can track Alves and Clichy can deal with Pedro, even though they risk being pulled out of shape. It is a gamble Wilshere has to take or Xavi will have too much time. Even with all these precautions, Arsenal's centre halves will have to come out to wide positions to try to win the ball early and help team-mates.


Some of the one-twos played between Xavi, Messi and Andres Iniesta against Sporting on Saturday were mesmerising. Even if Arsenal defend perfectly, there is no guarantee that will be enough because this side are probably the greatest collection of players we have ever seen.

David Villa has been sensational, scoring 18 times, and the way he operates in wide positions is very hard to defend against. Once he has the ball on the flank, he runs diagonally at the centre halves.

The dream duo: Arsenal must keep Villa (left) and Messi quiet if they want to beat Barca

The dream duo: Arsenal must keep Villa (left) and Messi quiet if they want to beat Barca

Meanwhile, Messi drops off the defenders into the space behind the midfield and because of the threat of Villa running at the defenders, they cannot come out and mark him. Villa then plays a one-two with Messi and gets in behind or plays the role of decoy so Messi can have a shot - after his trademark faking to shoot first, of course.


Arsenal's defence will feel like they want to back off - but they should do the opposite. The back four need to push up to squeeze the space Villa and Messi have. But the Arsenal defence then have to read the passes and win the ball - because if they get it wrong, there is plenty of space behind them and it will be too late.

Barcelona's holy trinity


When Arsene Wenger watches the tapes of Barcelona, he will not be in awe of them - he will be looking for their weaknesses. And their defence is their weakness.

When Barcelona are not in possession, Alves just chases the ball wherever it is, leaving a gaping hole at right back. It is all symptomatic of their philosophy when they lose the ball - they work very hard and very quickly in numbers to win it back, with two or three men round a player. But if you can get beyond that hunting pack, there is space to exploit, especially as Villa and Pedro offer very little protection.

Speed demon: Walcott can cause the Barcelona defence problems

Speed demon: Walcott can cause the Barcelona defence problems


If Arsenal can get Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie or Nasri running in those areas the full backs have vacated, they can trouble a central defence who will be missing Puyol so much. Pique is not the fastest and Eric Abidal is more comfortable at left back. Walcott will fancy his chances having caused Maxwell trouble in the home leg last season.

Walcott and Van Persie playing with freedom and testing their back line with his pace is Arsenal's best opportunity to win. The Barcelona defence is brittle without Puyol's leadership and one of the Spanish side's greatest strengths - the full backs bombing on - could prove to be their downfall.

Barcelona's holy trinity