Barcelona sharpen the knife ahead of Arsenal showdown
The Spanish giants are in ominous form while the wheels are falling off the Gunners' bandwagon
As Arsenal's season shows the first signs of unravelling, Barcelona, the team that has always rejoiced in derailing the Gunners, limbered up for their annual showdown with a 7-0 thrashing of Gary Neville's Valencia in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at the Nou Camp.
Arsenal, currently battling a slump in form that has seen them slip from first to fourth in the Premier League, face the Spanish giants in the last 16 of the Champions League on 23 February and given the current form of the two sides, it could be a grisly night for the north London side.
While the Gunners have won just one of their last five matches - an unconvincing 2-1 defeat of Championship side Burnley in the FA Cup - Barcelona have won nine on the bounce and are now unbeaten in their last 27 games, a run that stretches back to October. And while Arsenal have scored just five goals in their last five games, Barcelona are already into three figures for the season.
But if Arsenal have much to worry about later this month, it's Neville who is hurting this morning. At the start of December, the former Manchester United and England defender jacked in his career as a TV pundit to take over the reins at Valencia, but he's without a win in eight league games and now has witnessed his side's humiliation at the hands of the European champions.
"I am not going to sleep well tonight," he told reporters after the match. "This is one of the worst experiences I've ever gone through in football."
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi shared the goals between them, with Suarez scoring four against a Valencia side who played the second half with ten men after the dismissal of Shkodran Mustafi. For Messi, the tally included a personal landmark with his second of the night taking him to 500 career goals.
The scoreline would have been worse if Neymar hadn't missed a penalty, but that will be of little consequence to Barcelona, who are certain to progress to the last four of the competition.
"Soon after the match #Nevilleveteya, which translates to 'Neville go now', was trending in Valencia on Twitter", reports the BBC. A local radio station, Cadena Cope, has said that Valencia's Singaporean owner, Peter Lim, is now considering his manager's future.
Asked how he was dealing with the pressure, Neville replied he was "fine" and gave short shrift to a question regarding a possible resignation. "No," he said. When the subject was raised again later in the press conference, he snapped: "Next question. I've answered that before. I think I was very clear."
Apologising to the Valencia fans, he said: "Positivity has been immovable in my life. I last had doubts as a player 18 years ago and from that moment on, I developed a mechanism to deal with situations like this."
Valencia's next match is a league encounter on Sunday against Real Betis and Neville knows his fate may well hinge on the outcome. "Be clear," he said. "We have to deliver on Sunday."