In the decade since Arsenal and Barcelona met in the Uefa Champions League final in Paris, the fortunes of the two clubs have contrasted sharply.
Barca had won one European Cup before that game, Arsenal none. Though reduced to 10 men following the early red card for goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Arsenal were leading until the 76th minute, when Barcelona scored the first of two goals in four minutes as substitute Henrik Larsson made a difference. The biggest club in Europe's biggest city failed to become the first London club to win Europe's biggest club trophy. Instead, Chelsea became the first London club to win the European Cup, in 2012.
In the years since, Arsenal may have moved to a new 60,000-seater stadium, and their average crowd risen from 38,000 to 60,000, but the vast increase in revenue generated at their new home has been matched by a decrease in the number of trophies won. Arsenal had been English champions three times in the decade before 2006; they haven’t won a league title since.
Football’s pre-eminent force, Barcelona have won six domestic league titles in the past decade, plus four European cups. They have continued to develop young players while paying big money for the best international stars who are attracted to playing with the world’s best players in a fine city at a trophy-winning club.
Barca hope that their own huge stadium redevelopment, slated to start next year, won’t trigger a trophy drought like Arsenal’s.
London is also a great city, but Arsenal seldom win trophies. They have been relatively parsimonious in the transfer market, with a mixed strategy under Arsene Wenger. They tried to tempt more young Catalans to London in the hope that they would replicate the success of Cesc Fabregas, but while Fran Merida has showed youthful promise, it was not enough. Maybe Jon Toral, the Catalan out on loan at Birmingham City, will come good for Arsenal. Arsenal and Barcelona regularly trade players, but that usually means the Catalans buying Arsenal’s best talents and Arsenal buying those who have underwhelmed at Camp Nou.
Arsenal will almost certainly exit the Champions League on Wednesday at Camp Nou. They trail 2-0 from the first leg against Luis Enrique’s team, who are unbeaten in 36 matches. Enrique scored in both ties when the teams met in the 1999/2000 group stage. The first leg two weeks ago was the fourth year in succession that Arsenal have lost in the home leg of the last 16.
The Catalans are worried about the financial might of Premier League clubs because of the huge new television contract, but they still hold the position of power. Arsenal enjoy the second highest average attendances in England but they can't come close to the Catalans' success.
Arsenal will be backed by 4,000 travelling fans at Camp Nou, a divided group when it comes to whether they want manager Arsene Wenger to remain in charge. They are rightly disappointed by the fortunes of their club, though the rise of both Chelsea and Manchester City has made life more difficult for many top English sides and shifted the key rivalry away from Manchester United and Arsenal.
The defending champions knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League in 2010 and 2011 and they are looking to reach the quarter-finals for the ninth consecutive season. They have won their last nine home games in the competition and hammered Roma 6-1 in November.
Barca's last home defeat – and their only home defeat in 36 Champions League matches – was against Bayern Munich three years ago. It is against Bayern Munich and the continent's other strongest teams that the Catalans will be measuring themselves against this season. Sadly for Arsenal, they don't fit into that category.
Barca have progressed 35 of the 37 times that they have won the away leg first in various European competitions. Arsenal will take hope from the achievements of Cologne and Metz who put four past Barca at Camp Nou in the 1980s after losing the first leg, but the prospect of them doing the same is slim.
Special things happen to Real Madrid in the Uefa Champions League
Twelve points behind Barcelona in the league with nine games remaining, Real Madrid's focus has switched to lifting an 11th European Cup.
That is all that can save their season, but they can draw inspiration from their past. In 1998, European champions Madrid had finished fourth in La Liga, 11 points behind Louis van Gaal’s Barca side.
It was their first European Cup for 32 years, but Madrid have won the competition four times since. Though not as prolific as Barca’s four titles in the past decade, no team has lifted more than the four European Cups of each of the Spanish giants in the past 20 years.
Indeed, Madrid's last four European Cup wins all came after poor domestic seasons. In 2000, Madrid finished fifth in La Liga and wouldn't have qualified for the following season's Champions League had they not won the competition in Paris. In 2002, when Madrid won their ninth European Cup, they finished third in La Liga, nine points behind champions Valencia. In 2014, when they won the much-coveted decima, they were again third as Atletico Madrid won the title.
Madrid are third at present and Zinedine Zidane, who scored a brilliant volley in the 2002 final at Hampden Park, is now in charge. His side don’t look like a team that is going to win a European Cup, nor that they have the quality to overcome a team of Barcelona’s strength over two legs, but special things happen to Madrid in the competition they have won more times than anyone else.
Madrid’s best results this term have come in the Champions League. They won five and drew one of their six group games, keeping clean sheets in five of them. They also kept two clean sheets as they beat Roma 2-0 home and away in the last 16.
Domestically, Madrid are struggling. Though they won 2-1 at the weekend, they were poor against Las Palmas.
“The second half was very worrying,” Zidane said. “We must play better, that is so clear. Without that we will get nowhere. We lost an amazing amount of balls. If we want to expect to do anything, we must play better”
Credit to Las Palmas, who had won their previous three matches to lift themselves out of the bottom three and who started superbly against Madrid.
Zidane hasn’t impressed since replacing Rafa Benitez in January, but he’s inherited a side which wasn’t his own and was expected to have the magical influence on the team he had as a player while competing with the best team in the world.
Zidane has got them scoring plenty at home but struggling to match that league form away from the Bernabeu. It won’t be in the domestic league where he will be judged most keenly this season, but the Champions League.
Game of the week
Villarreal v Barcelona should be a very tough game for the league leaders, though Villarreal have lost their last two matches, including a home defeat by Las Palmas. Real Madrid are at home to a very-good-at-home Sevilla side, but who are so bad away that they have not won all season.
Player of the week
Sevilla’s front two of Kevin Gameiro and Yevhen Konoplyanka were excellent in their 4-2 win over Villarreal which moved them to within five points of their opponents. It was a superb game, with the best goal a rocket of a shot from the three-time Ukranian Footballer of the Year Konoplyanka.
Giuseppe Rossi scored the winner in the Valencia derby against an abject Valencia side who were rightly criticised by Gary Neville. Levante are still bottom, but they are only three points from safety and as we said weeks ago, don’t rule against them staying up.
Iker Munian age just 23, the Basque played his 200th La Liga game as Athletic Bilbao beat Betis 3-1 at home.
Barcelona hammered Getafe 6-0 at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi has scored in his side's last five games, his best streak this season. Getafe, with nine defeats and a draw from their past 10 games, can't win and have slipped into the bottom three. The league's worst-supported team won't be missed by many, but they could be replaced by another poorly-supported side from a new satellite town south of Madrid as Leganes are top of the second division.
Just fourteen points separate the bottom 13 in La Liga, starting with Eibar in eighth. Thirty-eight points separate leaders Barca and Eibar.
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