Okay, so I’ll admit that this would have been a lot more fun had we man-handled Man U instead of getting kicked off the pitch (maybe Ten Hag had his minions read my cheeky preview to get them fired up). That would have dovetailed nicely with our evisceration of the MLS All-Stars and allowed to me take the piss out of the bout of gastroenteritis that ran through the Barça squad (half-clever, that one…). As it stands, though, it looks like the illness has run its course. Whether players have fully recovered is another question.
Gastroenteritis causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating, and a few other symptoms but usually runs its course in around 72 hours. Barça cancelled Sunday’s friendly with Juventus, and here it is Tuesday with our match on Wednesday. They’re being understandably quiet about just who and how many were affected and who’ll be available to play. Whether that cancellation puts any pressure on Xavi to give more time to his preferred XI is a question too murky to ponder, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
The more-intriguing tea leaves to read relate to Barça’s ongoing financial struggles. Due to massive spending from 2016 to 2020, payroll ballooned by 61%, UEFA has issued fines (probably the least of the club’s worries), and transfer business has ground to a halt. Ilkay Gündogan and Iñigo Martínez have joined on free transfers, and Oriel Romeu has joined on a £3m fee. This from a club that frequently spends closer to £150m per season and has come close to spending £400m. Key (or at least expensive) players like Griezmann, Neto, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Depay, Aubameyang and Trincão have left, often on free transfers or very low fees. The club has been forced (or has chosen for principled reasons) to accelerate the addition of players from La Masia to varying degrees of success. It’s really quite something to see such a club reduced to scrounging around for discount players and potential starlets after (and as a result of) splurging on players like Griezmann, de Jong, Lewandowski, Torres, Dembélé, and Coutinho in recent years.
Still, this is still very, very close to the squad that won La Liga with a ten-point gap to second-placed Real Madrid. Even if this is their first preseason friendly and our fifth, woe betide us if we waltz in expecting a cakewalk. Yes, again, it is still a friendly, and our opponents are a bit unsettled both on and off the pitch—but these are reasons that, if anything, put more pressure on us to win. Should we lose, the always rational and level-headed post-match reaction will decry Arsenal’s wasteful spending, Arteta’s dreadful tactics, and the squad’s awful chemistry. Victory—again, even in a preseason friendly—would cram our critics’ craws with walnuts and give us some valuable confidence going forward.
“We battered Barça” is something that’s always worth saying, whether it’s the dog days of summer or the early days of spring, when there’s a nifty little trophy on offer.