Stop Lionel or it could get messy

Arsenal must apply constant pressure if they are to upset Barcelona while Spurs will look to wing it against Milan

Arsenal must press as they have never pressed before and Tottenham must wing it if North London is to have a continuing role to play in the capital's quest for a first European Cup. Chelsea, who came closer than anyone to that Holy Grail when losing the final to Manchester United on penalties in 2008, have much the easiest draw of the three local rivals and will be expected to dispose of Copenhagen in a tie that does not begin until next week (when United play Marseille). For Arsenal and Spurs, the draw for this first knockout round has brought glamour but a greater risk of elimination against the league leaders in Spain and Italy respectively.

There is a tendency in European competition to judge opponents on past glories rather than current stature, overrating, say, a Juventus, Ajax or Benfica on the basis of what was achieved some years ago with completely different players and coaches. Unfortunately for the North London pair, that does not apply to either Milan, who are on top of the table, or Barcelona, who are on top of their game as well, so much so that Pep Guardiola's side are now being compared to the greatest club teams of all time.

Tottenham have fond, albeit distant memories of Tuesday's opponents, having beaten them in the semi-final of the Uefa Cup almost 40 years ago before winning the trophy. For Arsenal, memories and wounds are much fresher. It is, after all, less than a year since they somehow survived one of the most one-sided first halves ever suffered on their own ground and emerged with a 2-2 draw against Barcelona, only to concede four goals to Lionel Messi in the second leg (a letter published in The Independent asked how your correspondent could have been so mean-spirited as to award Messi only nine marks out of 10).

Containing the little sprite, who went into last night's game against Sporting Gijon with 37 goals in 31 games this season, will again be but one of their problems. Gaining sufficient possession to attempt their own close-passing game will be another, and it is here that they must improve at the Emirates on Wednesday, closing down and pressurising Barça much more effectively, ideally before they have moved the ball as far as the metronomic Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield, let alone Messi. Once the latter starts running at a defence that has been prone to leakage all season, then Arsenal really will be in trouble.

It is bizarre to think that but for a couple of lapses in concentration just after half-time in the home leg last time, Arsène Wenger's side would have won a game in which he admitted that Barcelona's opening spell was the best football he had ever been up against. "We are in better form going into this game than we were last year and in a better shape physically," he told Arsenal TV Online yesterday. "I believe we are more mature as well. Having said that, I concede as well that Barcelona is even stronger than last year. But I think we can give them a very interesting test. We are not favourites, so it takes a little bit of the pressure off our shoulders. On the other hand we are very ambitious and we want to show that we can knock them out."

The positives for Tottenham include their own vibrant form in Europe this season; and the familiarity and confidence that beating Milan's co-tenants Internazionale has inspired. The Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp always approaches these games by balancing the pluses with due respect for the opposition, which involves no insincerity in praise of Milan. "As for lessons learned so far, you have to go away from home and keep it tight," Redknapp said on Friday. "We have made some fantastic comebacks but they don't happen all the time. What we need to be from the start is concentrated and focused."

Where Spurs will hope to profit, home and away, is by attacking at pace down the flanks in the manner that confounded Inter in the second half at the San Siro and throughout the game at White Hart Lane. Aaron Lennon can play his part and will have to do so if Gareth Bale is unfit, although the flying winger's chances have improved. Redknapp would also want to have Luka Modric pulling strings in central midfield, which may not be possible.

Milan, under their unfashionable coach Massimiliano Allegri, have been hard hit by injuries recently, although two key figures in defender Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo, the playmaker from deep, should be fit. Mark van Bommel is ineligible but further forward they have a potentially formidable attacking trio in the rejuvenated Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and the young Brazilian Pato.

A tentative conclusion would be that by the time of the quarter-finals, Chelsea will again be carrying London's hopes alone.

Milan v Tottenham Hotspur is on Sky Sports 2 on Tuesday. Arsenal v Barcelona is on ITV1 on Wednesday (both 7.45pm kick-offs)

Champions' League Last 16

Tuesday

Valencia v Schalke (7.45pm, Sky Sports 4)

Valencia are in the top four of La Liga and should build a lead against schizophrenic Schalke, who are stuck in the bottom half of the Bundesliga but were winners of their group.

Wednesday

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk (7.45pm, Sky Sports 2)

Eastern Europeans can be caught out during their winter break and Shakhtar, who have reached this stage for the first time, must ensure it does not happen against Claudio Ranieri's side.

Europa League Last 32

Tuesday

Aris Salonika v Manchester City (6pm, ITV4)

Aris may sound unfashionable opposition but they have a remarkable home record in European games, being unbeaten in all 24 of them, the first of which was against Chelsea in 1970.

Thursday

Rangers v Sporting Lisbon (8.05pm, ESPN)

Rangers will come up against their former midfielder Pedro Mendes in a Sporting side showing better form this season away than at home.

Sparta Prague v Liverpool (8.05pm, Five)

Kenny Dalglish will relish a return to European competition as Liverpool, unbeaten abroad this season, make only their second appearance in the Czech Republic.

NB Chelsea (away to Copenhagen) and Manchester United (in Marseille) play their ties on 22/23 February.

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness