Preview by Numbers: Barcelona v. Arsenal, Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg

Camp Nou, Barcelona
Wednesday, March 16
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Russia
    • Referee: Sergei Karasev
    • Assistants: Anton Averianov and Tikhon Kalugin
    • 4th Official: Nikolai Golubev
    • Additional Assistants: Sergei Lapochkin and Sergei Ivanov
  • First Leg: Arsenal 0 - 2 Barcelona
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 5 Barcelona wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-W-L-W-W-L
  • Barcelona's European Form: W-W-W-W-D-W
We have officially, as a group, come to the point where this season is an absurdity.

To be fair, we probably should have seen this coming. This is a team that has lost to the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Olympiacos (at home no less), and Sheffield Wednesday. This is a team that faced a club that had gone a month and a half without winning and managed to lose 4-0. This is a team that lost twice to a Chelsea squad that, for most of the fall, was excellent at apparently trying to lose to get its manager sacked. This is a team that conceded twice, in quick succession, to an 18 year old making his first Premier League start. There have been symptoms all season long to indicate that this Arsenal club wasn't good enough.

And so, I suggest we embrace this absurdity. Otherwise, it's just sad.

Case in point, here's an article from the Arsenal Web site that came up in my RSS feed on Monday afternoon (evening in UK time):

Ray Parlour travels with fans by boat

Now, usually, the little blurb at the bottom there would provide a little context for the article. But in this case, no, Arsenal couldn't be bothered. They just repeated the title over again without further explanation.

Ray Parlour travels with fans by boat. Let that sink in (no pun intended). There's an image from the FA Cup loss to Watford that goes with it and, if you click the article, that's not even the match he traveled with fans by boat to attend. This blurb doesn't even specify that it's a match they were going to. It could've just been a random boat trip.

This is the 2015/16 Arsenal season in a nutshell. Ray Parlour travels with fans by boat. To somewhere, I guess. Probably to some kind of Arsenal purgatory.

So, let's play the best team in the world shall we! Get on the boat! Ray Parlour might be there! Boat!

Of course, Barcelona's on the other side of Spain, so a boat trip from England would require going all the way around Iberia, which I suppose is the nautical equivalent of Arsenal passing the ball around the perimeter and not shooting.


Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (thigh,) Cech (calf,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Koscielny (calf,) Boat (bow failure)

The boat is a doubt.
Laurent Koscielny, who is likely to return from his calf injury, has said that Arsenal have "nothing to lose" when they visit the Nou Camp tonight, which is probably because they've basically lost everything already this season.

He added "people always talk about the statistics and I think we have maybe a five percent chance to qualify." Five percent odds of winning by two clear goals at Camp Nou? Barcelona haven't lost at home by two goals since Bayern Munich beat them 3-0 to win 7-0 on aggregate in 2013 Champions League semis (and yet people still talk like Pep Guardiola made Bayern better, even though Bayern won the Treble that year under Jupp Heynckes.)

Anyway, there aren't really any other changes to the available XI, as Petr Cech remains out, Aaron Ramsey's season could be over, Ray Parlour's fan boat has bow failure, and the rest were already long-term.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Welbeck, Alexis, Ozil, Ray Parlour travels with fans by boat.

Barcelona Squad News

Out: Rafinha (knee) 
Suspended: Pique (one match, accumulation)

When you see the queen of diamonds, score an own goal.
Barcelona remain without Rafinha, who injured his knee on matchday one. He needed surgery on that knee and is still sidelined.

The big news is that Gerard Pique will serve a one match ban for yellow card accumulation. Jeremy Mathieu will likely take Pique's place at center back, but OMG what if it's Thomas Vermaelen? Do you think Arsene Wenger brainwashed him before selling him so that he unwittingly conspires to help us in the match? It'll be like The Manchurian Candidate but in Catalonia and with less assassination!

Up top, Arsenal would be advised to not let Lionel Messi score; he's put eight past Arsenal in five games, but he's scored all of those in three of the matches. In the two matches where he was held scoreless, Arsenal picked up a draw and a win, while they lost all three in which Messi scored.

So yeah, here's the game plan: 1) don't let Messi score, 2) benefit from the brainwashing of Thomas Vermaelen, 3) don't let any of their other forwards score, 4) and the midfielders and defenders for that matter, 5) don't let the goalie score because that would really suck, 6) try not to get sent off, 7) don't let Flamini play, 8) have Ray Parlour travel with fans by boat, and 9) oh yeah, score three goals.


Predicted XI: ter Stegen, Alves, Mascherano, probably Mathieu but hopefully Agent Vermaelen, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Suarez, Neymar, Messi.

Current Form

Is that a Stargate?
Arsenal went into last year's second leg with Monaco on a high; they had won five straight in the Premier League and had just won at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. As for this year, well, what's the opposite of all that?

Arsenal have won four of their last 14 across all competitions and two of them were cup ties against Championship clubs. They've lost three straight at home, which technically isn't relevant for this match, but it's worth noting that this is the first time that has happened since the fall of 2002.

Meanwhile, in Catalonia, Barcelona are on a 37-match unbeaten run, which is a Spanish record. They've won 31 of those 37 matches, to boot. They haven't lost since October 3, 2-1 at Sevilla. They haven't lost at home in over a year, since a 2-1 loss to Malaga on February 21, 2015. They have won eight straight since a 0-0 draw with Valencia, the second leg of a Copa Del Rey tie in which Barcelona already had a seven goal lead on aggregate. I don't know what else to add here, it's not like I'm going to scare you any more about this game.

Match Facts

Lionel Messi scored four against the likes of Manuel Almunia
and Mikael Silvestre in 2010's quarterfinal second leg,
which I guess is technically impressive, but come on...
For the fifth consecutive season, we're sitting here talking about Arsenal overcoming a large deficit in the Round of 16's second leg. In 2012, they lost 4-0 at Milan before storming back to win 3-0 at the Emirates. In 2013, they lost 3-1 at home to Bayern before winning 2-0 in Germany and bowing out on away goals. In 2014, on ten men, they fell 2-0 at home to Bayern and could only scrape a draw at the Allianz, bowing out 3-1 on aggregate. Last year, they repeated their 2013 performance, but against Monaco: they lost 3-1 at home, won 2-0 on the road, and lost on away goals. Here we are again, two goals down in the aggregate with two away goals allowed. Like clockwork. So, as in years past (so many years!), I'm going to spend this section writing about Arsenal's (poor) history at overturning these deficits.

Since 2003/04, when the Champions League switched to the 16-team knockout phase set-up, Arsenal have lost the first match of a two-legged tie nine times, including, as mentioned above, their last five first legs. Among the previous eight occurrences (i.e. prior to this season,) Arsenal came from behind to win the tie only once, against Porto in 2010, thanks to a 5-0 second leg win at the Emirates in which Nicklas Bendtner had a hat trick.

Interestingly, Arsenal have gone on to win the second leg match but not the tie as a whole on four occasions, including 2012, 2013, and 2015 against AC Milan, Bayern Munich, and Monaco, respectively. They performed that feat one other time against Bayern Munich as well, in 2005.

If you are curious about Arsenal's less than pleasant history against Barcelona, specifically, I would refer you to the preview for the first leg.

The Referee

He's certainly bald enough to pass as an English ref.
The match officials are from Russia and three of them are named Sergei; the referee is Sergei Karasev. This will be Karasev's 14th Champions League match and his first Arsenal game. He earned his FIFA badge in 2010 and has previously worked one Barcelona match, a 6-1 group stage win over Celtic in 2013.

No English side has ever won with Karasev in the middle. Fulham drew RNK Split 0-0 in the 2011 Europa League's third qualifying round. Tottenham drew 1-1 with Maribor in the 2012 Europa League group stage. Chelsea lost 1-0 to Steaua Bucharest in the 2013 Europa League round of 16. Finally, England's under-21 national side lost 3-1 to Italy in last summer's under-21 Euros group stage.

I was careful about saying no English side has ever won with Karasev, which is a bit of a bullshit technicality, because Swansea City won a 2013 Europa League playoff match 5-1 over Petrolul Ploiesti (?!) with Karasev as the referee.

Spanish sides have a mixed record with Karasev: Barcelona's 6-1 win was the largest, while Real Madrid picked up a 3-1 win over Schalke in 2014. Spain's under-21 side played a 0-0 draw with Serbia with Karasev in the middle and Real Sociedad lost 2-1 to Bayer Leverkusen in 2013.

Around Europe
  • Last Tuesday: Real Madrid 2 - 0 Roma
    • Real Madrid wins 4-0 on aggregate.
  • Last Tuesday: Wolfsburg 1 - 0 Gent
    • Wolfsburg wins 4-2 on aggregate.
  • Last Wednesday: Chelsea 1 - 2 Paris St. Germain
    • Paris St. Germain wins 4-2 on aggregate.
  • Last Wednesday: Zenit St. Petersburg 1 - 2 Benfica
    • Benfica wins 3-1 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: Manchester City 0 - 0 Dynamo Kiev
    • Manchester City wins 3-1 on aggregate.
  • Tuesday: Atletico Madrid 0 - 0 PSV Eindhoven
    • Tie ends 0-0. Atletico Madrid wins 8-7 on penalties.
  • Wednesday: Bayern Munich v. Juventus; Allianz Arena, Munich
    • Tie level at 2-2 after first leg.
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and travels with fans by boat. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for boat dimensions.