The 2-1 win over Las Palmas was ugly, but necessary. How can a team at the bottom of the table make life so uncomfortable for the Blaugrana? Simple. Barcelona, and particularly, the front three, weren't running.
Towards the end of the game the islanders pushed up hoping for an equalizer. Barcelona's feared attacking trio - Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar - didn't track back. The Cules were 7 vs. 9 outfield players in defense, and it showed.
There's a reason for that, obviously. Barcelona haven't had a midweek break since the midseason break, playing with a fixture list that's incredibly clogged, due in large part to the Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup. The only relief was the return Copa semifinal against Valencia, which became almost purely academic after Barcelona won the first leg 7-0.
The roundtrip to Las Palmas is one of Europe's longest domestic flights for any football team. Of course Barcelona were saving energy for the Champions League clash.
Why not? They had the lead in the match and the knowledge that Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were not only behind in the league, but likely to drop points (and that they did.) And they'll drop points - one or the other, if not both - when they meet each other next week.
We've seen Barça play within themselves quite a bit during that stretch. Even against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona seemed to push the accelerator only when trailing 0-1, quickly making it 2-1, and then let off even when Atleti were down to 10, then 9 men.
That's sure to make Luis Enrique quite happy because the team has fuel left in the tank despite the crazy amount of fixtures AND they've been able to progress everywhere. They're in the Cup final and in a very comfortable position in the league, and yet, they haven't had to push themselves fully to do so.
The question becomes, HOW MUCH fuel is left in that tank? Honestly, we don't know. We know they have more than if they had gone full-tilt throughout the run, that's for sure. But it can't be 100% where you'd like it, right? Not after a fixture list that congested?
Today, Barcelona are unlikely to hold back. (I say unlikely, because you'd think that top-of-the-table clash with Atletico would have seen Barça pushing 100%, but it didn't seem that way.)
If that's the case, and Barcelona don't leave much in reserve... we'll see whether the run has truly affected them, and then Arsenal may indeed get a surprising result... or else... we might see a bloodbath.