Arsenal (2) – (2) Barcelona
Walcott (69′), Fabregas (85′)
Champions League Quarter Final (1st Leg)
The Emirates Stadium, London
What a crazy game that was! I’ve only just about recovered..
The first 15 minutes were amazing. In the sense that I have watched Arsenal for over 20 years now and I have never seen a side dominate Arsenal as much as that. Barcelona were that good. Their football was simply outstanding and from a different planet.
You have to take your hat off to them, they were stunningly good. They picked passes at will, created space and completely ran us ragged. They made 5 clear chances but Almunia, who has been under pressure after the Birmingham game, made some superb saves. The Spaniard was on fantastic form in the opening 20 minutes, and if it wasn’t for him then we could have (and maybe should have) been 4-0 down.
In that first period of play when Barcelona dominated, Arsenal looked shell-shocked. We had no answers for their stunning attacking play and we were fortunate to get to half-time without conceding.
The frustration I had at half-time was the inclusion of Cesc Fabregas. With Nasri available, I didn’t see the point of a clearly unfit Fabregas being on the pitch. We had Rosicky and Walcott on the bench, and Fabregas was dead on his feet. He hardly ran and couldn’t influence the game in the way that he usually could. He spent most of the game in and around the centre circle. But his influence towards the end of the game shows how much I know.
William Gallas went off with a re-occurrence of his previous injury just before the break and Alex Song slotted into the back line, with Denilson coming on in midfield.
Unfortunately though, the absence of Gallas proved costly.
For all their beautiful football, it took a simple ball over the top for Barcelona to open the scoring after only 25 seconds into the second half. For all of Song’s and Vermaelen’s strengths, Gallas is the one man who can cope best with through passes and balls over the top because of his recovery pace. Unfortunately, that was lacking and Ibrahimovic beat the offside trap and dinked the ball over a stranded Almunia.
On second viewing, it seemed like Almunia had no good reason to come out so much (given the angle Ibrahimovic had) and it gave the Swede an easy choice as he lofted the ball into the net.
It was a mistake from Almunia, but the defending wasn’t great either. It was a cheap goal and weathering the massive storm in the first half (and the heroic defending at times) it was a frustrating goal to concede.
That setback put Arsenal into the “defensive” mindset yet again and we played with the handbrake on, give Barcelona time and space to inflict damage. And 13 minutes later the same happened again.
Another ball over the top yet again found Ibrahimovic, who found himself in an identical position but this time lashed the ball in at the near post. 2-0 Barcelona and the tie was over. Almunia again didn’t cover himself in glory as he actually went down as the shot was taken, giving himself no chance to make a save. He should have stayed on his feet, but at the same time he was badly exposed again.
But then the turning point of the game.
Theo Walcott was introduced and made an immediate impact. The high-tempo performance from Barcelona (including their energetic full backs who are virtually like wingers) seemed to effect them and Theo’s pace down the right hand side was causing Maxwell all kinds of problems.
A nice run was spotted by Bendtner who played in a nice ball for Walcott, who drove into the box and hit a shot that went under Valdes.
Arsenal had a precious lifeline.
It sprung Arsenal into life and Theo down the right was causing havoc. Every time Arsenal had possession I was screaming for the team to play it to Walcott! Barcelona were petrified of his pace and with all the injury concerns Arsenal have I wouldn’t think twice about starting him at the Camp Nou. With his pace he is ideal for a counter attacking game, considering how high up the pitch Barcelona play.
And with that amazingly Barcelona looked a little tired. We had more possession but couldn’t really find that cutting edge, hardly giving Valdes anything to do.
But with 5 minutes of normal time remaining, a nicely headed assist from Bendtner found Fabregas only a couple of yards from goal. But the Arsenal captain was impeded by Puyol and Arsenal had a penalty!
Can you believe this game?!
So Arsenal amazingly had a chance to equalise, in a game where Barcelona probably should have killed off. Fabregas placed the ball on the spot and smashed the ball right into the net!
Arsenal 2, Barcelona 2. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
In the remaining minutes Arsenal and Barcelona did try to go for a winner but it was evident that both sets of players had given everything and had nothing left in the tank. And that’s hardly a surprise, given the intensity of the game.
A great game for the neutrals, and in the end a great game for Arsenal, everything considered.
Unfortunately though, Fabregas got a harsh yellow card after cleanly winning the ball and will miss the second leg at the Camp Nou. I’m not sure if it’s possible to appeal yellow cards in the Champions League but if so then Arsenal should have that looked at. But the way Cesc was hobbling around the pitch in the second half he probably wouldn’t be fit enough anyway.
On the plus side, Pique also got booked so he will miss the second leg as well. And because of Puyol’s late red card, he will also be out of the return game. Without their first choice central defenders, who knows what Arsenal can do next week?
Arsenal Player Ratings
Manuel Almunia: 8/10
Made some quick unbelievable saves in the first 15 minutes, literally keeping Arsenal not just in the game, but in the tie. Barcelona were wreaking havoc in the opening minutes and Almunia made some vital saves from Messi, Ibrahimovic and Xavi. Was slightly at fault for Barcelona’s two goals in the second half but the first half saves were that good he earns an 8.
Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Made a vital clearance off the line in the “Barcelona show” at the start of the game and did okay on the whole. Crossing was poor though when a decent cross would have been useful but full of running yet again.
William Gallas: 7/10
Only lasted 40 minutes before being stretchered off but struggled (like the rest of the team) to cope with Barcelona’s early pressure. Was solid after that though and helped the team go into the break without conceding.
Thomas Vermaelen: 6/10
Made some decent blocks but wasn’t good for Ibrahimovic’s second goal, where he inexplicably strayed forward only for the ball to be clipped over him and for Barcelona to score. Sometimes too eager to win the ball when it’s not even there to be won.
Gael Clichy: 8/10
Excellent performance going forward, making a headed chance for Bendtner who really should have scored. Worked well with Nasri on the left and kept Messi relatively quiet for the majority of the game. Coped with Daniel Alves well too.
Alex Song: 8/10
Apart from losing Ibrahimovic for the goals did excellent at the back when called upon. Did well in midfield as well and made some vital tackles and interceptions.
Abou Diaby: 6/10
Guilty of a lot of misplaced passes and a poor touch from the usually solid and reliable Diaby. Gave possession away needlessly when it was imperative that Arsenal retained it and seemed to be the most effected from Barcelona’s early onslaught in the opening 15 minutes.
Cesc Fabregas: 6/10
Considering he was injured it was a decent shift. The team did struggle though at times with his lack of fitness and at times in the first half it seemed like we were playing with 10 men. But his obvious class came through in the end and proved to be decisive in the last 10 minutes.
Samir Nasri: 7/10
Not as influential as he can be but that’s because he’s more suited to the Fabregas role. Linked up well with Diaby and Clichy and while he couldn’t really influence the game going forward as he would have liked he did track back well.
Andrei Arshavin: 6/10
Came off after only 27 minutes with an injury but was poor before that anyway. Gave the ball away cheaply several times and seemed to continue his poor form of late. I’m not sure this guys head is in the right place.
Nicklas Bendtner: 8/10
Put in a decent performance tonight. Had a glorious chance to score with a header in the second half and had another chance in the first half but failed to stay onside. He might not have scored but created both of Arsenal’s goals for Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas so deserves huge credit for influencing the Arsenal’s most important attacks moments.
Emmanuel Eboue: 7/10 (Replaced Arshavin 27′)
Did well when he came on, keeping possession well and beating players when needed. Offered that cover for Sagna as well and slotted back into the defence once Walcott was introduced in the second half. He adds that extra dimension to our attack and played well with Theo in the final half an hour.
Denilson: 7/10 (Replaced Gallas 45′)
Did okay and kept the game flowing well.
Theo Walcott: 9/10 (Replaced Sagna 66′)
Was fantastic when we came on, and his introduction changed the game. Was a constant threat down the right and his pace caused Maxwell all kinds of problems. Kept a cool head to score his goal and what a massive goal it turned out to be.