As all the major domestic leagues have wrapped up, the Champions League final in Paris is the last major soccer event before this year’s World Cup. The Stade de France is a fitting location for both participating clubs, Arsenal and Barcelona. Barca’s enigmatic leader Ronaldinho started his European career with Paris Saint-Germain five years ago. For an Arsenal squad with a French coach and several players with roots in that country, Paris is a suitable setting for this final.
The current odds on which team will lift the trophy (including extra time and penalties) are as follows:
Barcelona are clear favourites and nobody is surprised to see them here. They are arguably the strongest team in Europe, and with names like Ronaldinho, Eto-o, Deco, Larsson, Messi, Giuly and Puyol that is hard to dispute. Barca are a supreme threat offensively, netting 22 goals in their 12 Champions League games this season. They exude skill and have no trouble displaying their bucket loads of talent game after game.
Having clinched the Primera Liga title comfortably, lifting the Champions League trophy would be a satisfying end to Barcelona’s season. They are unbeaten in their last 12 games in this competition and come into this match with a full and healthy squad. Led by Ronaldinho, FIFA’s World Footballer of the Year, Barca will be disappointed with anything less than victory.
This was to be a rebuilding year for Arsenal. Instead of splashing out on new players, they opted to save money ahead of their move into the new Emirates Stadium next year. That was clearly evidenced by a disappointing year in the Premiership, and eventual fourth-place finish.
But that certainly wasn’t the case in the Champions League. Arsenal took command and breezed through the group stage. But their performance in the knockout rounds was even more impressive as they didn’t concede a single goal – that against the likes of Villarreal, Juventus and Real Madrid no less. Indeed, Arsenal let in only two goals in their 12 Champions League games this season.
For the Gunners, it was something of a reversal of form. In the past few years, while Arsenal were lighting up the Premiership, they struggled in the Champions League. Now coach Arsene Wenger has come up with a winning formula in Europe that is based on discipline and organization.
A London club has never before reached the final of this tournament. But Barcelona have never won the Champions League either – a serious disappointment for a club of their stature. Whatever happens, this is set to be a dream final no matter where your allegiance lies.