Arsenal step up to face Barcelona rematch

Tonight sees the first leg of unquestionably the tie of the round of 16 in this year’s UEFA Champions League. Arsenal host the Catalan giants today in what is sure to be a spectacle to please the most jaded of neutral fans. However, last time the two faced off it was to be Arsenal who were left devastated by a world class performance from Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi has been at his phenomenal best all season for Barcelona, scoring an incredible 37 in all competitions this season. Even with the arrival of Spain’s world cup hero David Villa, he remains comfortably their most prolific scorer and Arsenal’s defence will have to be at their very best to contain him at the Emirates.

Arsenal’s home form however has been, after questions earlier in the season, extremely good as of late, with 5 wins in their last 5 home games in all competitions and manager Arsene Wenger might fancy his chances on home soil this year. With Robin Van Persie in goal scoring form, and a possible return for this year’s outstanding performer Samir Nasri, the Arsenal fans might be inclined to agree with him.

Even more good news greeted Arsenal fans at the weekend as Barcelona, seemingly invincible in recent months, stuttered to an away 1-1 draw with lowly Sporting Gijon ending their amazing winning run of 16 straight wins in the La Liga. However, it would be a fool to underestimate a team that has scored a staggering 71 goals in the league, conceding only 12 in the process.

Arsenal and Barcelona have also had their clashes elsewhere, in the transfer market over Cesc Fabregas, who looks set to start opposing his World Cup winning countrymen Xavi and Iniesta, while the issue seems destined to never be put to rest with Barcelona Chairman firing shots at Arsenal recently in the news surely adding even more spice to what is sure to be a classic contest.

Defeat at this stage in the competition would mean an end to Arsenal’s staggering run of Quarter-Final appearances in the UEFA Champions League, and equally end Barcelona’s run of 3 straight Semi-Final appearances, including finishing Runners Up in the 2007/8 campaign and running out Winners in the 2008/9 Champions League final against Manchester United in a rematch from the previous year.

TV coverage for Arsenal v Barcelona in the Last 16 of the UEFA Champions League is available on ITV1 with a 19:45 kick-off.