The Gunners are set to play their third and final pre-season fixture on American soil as they face La Liga champions FC Barcelona on 26th July at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. This fixture is a part of the newly established ‘Soccer Champions Series’ which features 6 European giants: Arsenal, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus.
Following the cancellation of Barcelona’s first pre-season clash against Juventus scheduled for 22nd July at the Levi’s Stadium after a number of players of the Spanish club’s squad came down with viral gastroenteritis, it was confirmed via a club statement that the friendly match against Arsenal will go ahead as planned without complications.
FC Barcelona’s club statement read: “The FC Barcelona first team players affected by a viral gastroenteritis are recovering well. In the last few hours, no new cases have been detected. There are two training sessions scheduled for this Monday and the squad will then have another session before the match against Arsenal. The team is eager to make its debut here in the United States. Barça will square off against Arsenal at SoFi Stadium this Wednesday.”
The north London side have had a mildly underwhelming pre-season till now. Apart from the 5-0 thrashing of MLS All Stars on 19th July, the 2 draws against Watford and FC Nurnberg as well as the 2-0 defeat against league rivals Manchester United has left the club’s fans reasonably disappointed especially after the new additions Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and record-signing Declan Rice all started in the loss against United.
Mikel Arteta and his men would definitely be looking for a positive end to their US tour and giving their fans something to cheer about. The game against the Spanish champions would be a great opportunity to accomplish that before the squad departs across the Atlantic to Europe again. Following the defeat to United, Arteta said: “I don’t like the feeling I have right now. The boys have to train right now thinking how we are going to be better to win the next match.”
Keeping in mind that out of the 8 times Arsenal and FC Barcelona have gone head to head the Gunners have lost 6 times, drawn once and secured just one win, the Premier League runner-ups would certainly not take the fixture lightly even after the Blaugrana’s players are still recovering from their illness.
Predicted Line-up and What to Expect?
Even though Aaron Ramsdale didn’t have his best day against United, he is expected to retain his spot between the posts as Arteta would be wary to start his back-up goalkeepers against the La Liga winners who smashed in 70 goals in their league last season. Jurrien Timber was one of the few players who looked bright against United, especially in the first 45 minutes. Timber was everywhere on the pitch and formed a great connection with Declan Rice in midfield as the duo often relied on each other.
Additionally, Kieran Tierney looked sharped as he came on and looked comfortable getting higher up the pitch even when venturing in the middle of the field. Even though Gabriel Magalhaes made the error which led to United’s opening goal, he is expected to start again alongside his partner William Saliba at center-back.
Arteta started the star midfield trio of Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz for the first time which resulted in an underwhelming performance with a lack of connection as all the three players played for different clubs last season. In the post-match conference, the Arsenal manager addressed the situation by saying: “When they play 55 times together, it will be better, it will flow better, they will understand each other better and we will be more dominant.”
“When they play 55 times together it will be better, they will flow better, they will understand each other better”
Mikel Arteta on the midfield trio of Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/lQl88l4j69
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 23, 2023
Even though Havertz didn’t have the worst game and was especially linking-up quite well with striker Eddie Nketiah, the German international is not expected to start against Barcelona as Arteta would probably want the familiar faces of Thomas Partey, Jorginho or even Leandro Troassard involved instead as he was against FC Nurnberg and MLS All Stars. Trossard looked especially sharp on the left-side when he came on against United and looks like a strong candidate to start at the SoFi stadium.
Arteta has no shortage of quality up-front with Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun all in the travelling squad. With Eddie Nketiah starting both the fixtures in the US Tour and Jesus starting once and coming on as a substitute once, fans are left wondering if Balogun has a future at the club after the striker wasn’t given any minutes in his home country against United and made a brief substitute apperance against MLS All Stars. Arteta hinted at rotation up-front by telling reporters: “Yes we have some options up front and we wanted to load some players that’s why some players didn’t have any exposure but they will in the next game.”
Furthermore Rob Holding, Amario Cozier-Duberry and Alex Runarsson remain the only players to be not given any playing time in the US till now. Arteta’s suggestion at rotation could mean that Hale End graduate Cozier-Duberry could probably come on for Bukayo Saka at some point in the game.
FC Barcelona’s solid defence which conceded the least number of league goals in the 2022-23 season at a mere 20 could mean that first-choice striker Gabriel Jesus would be expected to start with Balogun making a substitute appearance. Additionally even though Emile Smith Rowe was sublime as he came on against United, he is again expected to come on later as a substitute for Gabriel Matinelli.
Predicted XI: Ramsdale, Timber, Gabriel, Saliba, Tierney, Rice, Trossard, Odegaard, Martinelli, Jesus and Saka.