Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Arsenal are accustomed to facing Barcelona in the latter stages of the Champions League, but Luis Enrique’s side are very different from the Pep Guardiola team which twice visited the Emirates.
Barcelona still play in their typical 4-3-3 system, but whereas Guardiola’s team were based around clever, integrated movement between midfielders and attackers, this side holds the shape more: the outside midfielders move out towards the touchlines and passes generally flow down the flanks, whereas Guardiola was obsessed with dominating the centre of midfield.
"The full-backs continue to bomb forward regularly. Right-sided Daniel Alves isn’t quite as dynamic as five years ago but his overlapping allows Messi inside, while any races between Jordi Alba and Hector Bellerin will be terrifyingly fast"
Barcelona’s all-star front three are partly the reason for the shift in mentality - Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are all superb individual talents capable of winning games on their own, although they’ve proved excellent at combining too. Messi has now returned to his old role on the right flank, although drifts inside into dangerous zones between the lines.
On the opposite side, Neymar plays wider and takes on the opposition full-back before checking into his right foot at the last minute, while centre-forward Suarez plays a highly selfless role, constantly making lateral runs across the opposition defence to create space for others. He also stretches the play by running in behind, particularly when Barcelona hit long passes from the right side.
In the post-Xavi Hernandez era, the key midfielder is now Sergio Busquets. He sits deep and commands possession from in front of the defence, and will attempt to stick tight to Mesut Ozil too. His ability to command the centre means Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic can drift left and right respectively, opening up the pitch.
The full-backs continue to bomb forward regularly. Right-sided Daniel Alves isn’t quite as dynamic as five years ago but his overlapping allows Messi inside, while any races between Jordi Alba and Hector Bellerin will be terrifyingly fast. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano is the first-choice combination at the back, with the latter now established as a centre-back but nevertheless uncomfortable when dealing with high aerial balls.
While Claudio Bravo is the regular goalkeeper in La Liga, Marc-Andre ter Stegen has started all six Champions League games this season. The young German is incredibly confident with the ball at his feet and will encourage Barcelona to pass the ball forward from deep. However, the defenders’ distribution has been somewhat nervous at times over the past few weeks, particularly in the early stages of games when opponents have pressed before Barca have settled down.
If Arsenal are brave in the opening minutes, they could force mistakes.