Arsenal look to defy history & the odds against Barcelona

©  Darren Staples
Arsenal returns to Champions League action on Tuesday night and has the unenviable task of facing reigning champions Barcelona.

In a mouth-watering clash, the North London side take on a team that has not been beaten in 32 games in all competitions, going back to October.

The La Liga side won a momentous treble in the 2014-15 campaign, with European dominance confirmed by beating Juventus in the Champions League final in May.

Luis Enrique's men have shown no signs of slowing up this term and currently lead the Primera Division by eight points.

The compelling front three of Ballon d'Or holder Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez will pose a sizeable threat to the Gunners, with the trio sweeping opposition defenses aside at will over the last 12 months.

Arsenal were held in the FA Cup by Hull on Sunday, drawing 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium and subsequently have had an extra game added to their busy fixture list.

The North London side are in the Premier League title running, with a last-gasp Danny Welbeck goal against Leicester securing a much-needed 2-1 victory over the division leaders earlier this month.

Arsene Wenger has the task of managing priorities given that the club's fans are desperate to become England's top team for the first time since 2004.

There is an air of familiarity between the sides, both in personnel and through recent clashes.

Alexis Sanchez left Camp Nou to move to North London last summer, while Thomas Vermaelen did the opposite the year before.

The Catalans beat Arsenal in the final of the competition in 2006, while Barca also eliminated the English side in both 2010 and 2011.

The latter was full of controversy given Robin van Persie's questionable sending off in the second leg, which many Gunners fans still remonstrate about.

If Arsenal are to upset the odds and progress, victory in the first leg at home looks almost like a pre-requisite.

To do so Wenger will need to have his side stringently organized, while having the pace of Sanchez and others to close the likes of Sergio Busquets down high up the pitch and counter-attack quickly seems necessary.

Barcelona are overwhelming favorites given the caliber of their attacking stars, with Luis Suarez facing a side that tried to tempt him away from Liverpool in the summer of 2013, only for Suarez to hold out another year for a bigger move.

The fact that Arsenal have drawn and won the last two encounters against the Camp Nou giants on home soil will offer reason for optimism, but Wenger's men have little room for error against Europe's best team.

One stat perfectly showcases the gap between the two teams - Luis Suarez has scored 41 goals in 37 games this season, while Arsenal have scored only 41 goals in their current Premier League campaign. And if they manage to muzzle Suarez, they still need to contend with Messi (27 in 31) and Neymar (23 in 34).

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