Belfast Telegraph

The Beautiful Game

Arsenal are currently the great underachievers of football.

They play the beautiful game in a most beautiful way, but the Gunners' last trophy came way back in 2005, in an FA Cup final penalty shoot-out triumph over Manchester United.

Tonight Arsenal travel to the Nou Camp to take on football's other beautiful people, Barcelona.

Barca's style, though, is laced with substance.

Arsenal lead 2-1 from the first leg, but this is a team brittle under pressure.

They blew a tremendous chance to end their trophy famine when going down 2-1 to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final.

The Gunners' league title hopes took a knock on Saturday in a dismal 0-0 draw against Sunderland at the Emirates.

What a blow to confidence those two setbacks must have been. And that confidence - or lack of - will be put to the test tonight when Arsenal's continued participation in the Champions League is on the line.

Then, on Saturday, Arsene Wenger's men face a tough FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford - a game that will be the climax to a fortnight that could make or break Arsenal's season.

So why do the Londoners flatter to deceive?

They are so easy on the eye, but when the going gets tough they have a tendency to crumble.

There's actually no great secret to their problems.

Arsenal have suffered in recent years due to the lack of a top-class goalkeeper and a solid, no-nonsense centre-half. That much was brutally demonstrated by the blunder that led to Birmingham's late winner in the Carling Cup final.

But Wenger seems determined to persevere with his footballing principles - even if it means a lack of trophies.

Arsenal are still in with a shout in the league, but if they follow their Carling Cup collapse with Champions League and FA Cup exits this week, few would bet on Wenger getting the better of Sir Alex Ferguson in the title run-in.

Alternatively, Arsenal could deck Barca tonight and go to Old Trafford and turn over an at times wobbling United on Saturday. But tonight, pull up a chair, sit back, relax and watch two true footballing sides go toe-to-toe.

Birmingham, Sunderland and even Leyton Orient have given Arsenal problems in recent weeks.

But, as someone once said, it's a funny old game.

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