Arsenal (2) – (1) Barcelona
van Persie (78′), Arshavin (83′)
The Emirates Stadium, London
Before the game, I said that my head said 3-1 Barcelona but my heart said 2-1 Arsenal.
They say you should always follow your heart!
But what a game! There’s always the threat that a game doesn’t live up to the hype but the game tonight was fantastic entertainment.
As usual, Barcelona were mesmeric at times but Arsenal were always a threat. And Arsene Wenger’s substitutions actually made a difference. A great night all round!
Of course, there is still a long way to go in this tie but a 2-1 is an excellent result against a side like Barcelona who many consider untouchable. Before the game people questioned Arsenal’s chances, with some people saying that if the “great” Jose Mourinho lost 5-0 to Barcelona then Arsenal would get absolutely tanked.
I couldn’t tell you how many times people have Tweeted and texted saying Arsenal were going to get battered tonight. But as usual, I kept the faith and I always believe Arsenal are capable of beating anyone on their day.
But Arsenal proved tonight they had learnt their lessons from last season.
Barcelona were undoubtedly stronger than last year, swapping Ibrahimovic for David Villa and it was the Spaniard who opened the scoring after 26 minutes. Arsenal had spurned a chance moments earlier when Fabregas wasted a golden opportunity and Arsenal were made to pay seconds later. Valdes went to ground when Fabregas crossed for van Persie so I didn’t understand why he didn’t just shoot. The ball from Walcott was slightly wide but he could have still pulled the trigger.
Arsenal started the game well but once Villa opened the scoring it looked like Barcelona would get the second and third goals. Their tails were up and they played some breathtaking football, and Arsenal were on the ropes. But the lads defended well and Szczesny in goal looked solid and assured.
In the second half, Arsenal looked to be more positive and Barcelona dropped off as time ticked on. Arsene brought on Bendtner and Arshavin for Walcott and Song and it made all the difference. van Persie scored a stunning goal (does he score anything else) after being played in by Gael Clichy of all people, with his weaker right foot! van Persie looked up and lashed in a brilliant goal in at the near post. Then it was game on.
Now it was Barcelona that looked edgy and a wonderful counter attack launched by Fabregas gave Nasri time and space to pick out Arshavin who continued his unfathomable enigma and coolly slotted the ball home.
Arsenal had somehow comeback against the mighty Barcelona!
Once van Persie equalised I was in dream land but with the Arshavin goal I was delirious. Arsenal showed great commitment, desire and determination and overcame the odds to beat simply the best team in the world.
And that should not be underestimated.
Wojciech Szczesny: 9/10
Excellent game from the young lad. Solid, confident and did extremely well on the Messi chance early on in the game. Most people will say Messi missed but Szczesny stood tall and made himself big. Did well when called upon and for me, the best goalkeeper Arsenal have in their ranks. Arsene should back this horse for the next 10 years.
Emmanuel Eboue: 8/10
Did well for most of the game and kept David Villa quiet for most of the game, although he only needs one chance. Supported the attacks well and was solid at the back. An excellent performance from Eboue tonight.
Johan Djourou: 8/10
Did well alongside Koscielny and despite being up against the likes of Messi, Villa, Pedro and Xavi (who were mesmeric at times) did well to keep the Barcelona attack relatively quiet. Certainly the best partner for Koscielny and clearly there is a good understanding between the two central defenders.
Laurent Koscielny: 10/10
Along with Wilshire, a Man of the Match candidate. His best game in an Arsenal shirt by far. He was immense. Always in the right place at the right time, made some vital tackles and interceptions and was overall, fantastic. I would say his performance was flawless.
Gael Clichy: 8/10
Had to defend the left hand side single-handedly at times but did well. Dani Alves was always a threat and he was dealt with well. Made some vital last-ditch tackles and was solid overall. Beautiful through ball for van Persie’s equalising goal.
Alexandre Song: 8/10
Certainly got into Barcelona and was unlucky to get booked after only 6 minutes. Was walking a tight-rope since then though and made a lot of tackles which resulted in fouls. However, he made some excellent interceptions and kept the midfield together.
Jack Wilshire: 10/10
It’s easy to get carried away but Wilshire was ridiculously good, and along with Koscielny was Man of the Match. Composed, direct and effective, Wilshire was stunningly good. He never lost the ball, held onto possession well and was mesmerising in the middle of the park. The way he moved away from Xavi, Iniesta and the rest of the Barcelona midfield with ease, his touch was outstanding. Breathtaking performance.
Cesc Fabregas (Captain): 6/10
Very disappointing for me, and looked out of sorts all game. Lost the ball far too often and didn’t look up for taking on his Barcelona mates. Disappointed at key moments and was clearly intimidated.
Samir Nasri: 7/10
First game back from his hamstring injury and it looked like his first game back. Not as influential as in previous games this season and it would be naive to expect that. Looked bright at times though and laid off a lovely pass for Arshavin to slot home the winner.
Theo Walcott: 7/10
Threatened early on but didn’t get enough of the ball throughout the game. Didn’t vary his game enough and his runs, in the end, became too predictable. Arsene might use him in the second leg as an impact substitute.
Robin van Persie: 7/10
What can you say about van Persie? He infuriates for long periods and pulls out a stunning goal like that. Nothing was working for him for most of the game but when it mattered he did the business. Vital goal at a vital time, and made all the difference to the result. Took the goal extremely well and that’s what he’s in the team for, for those impact moments.
Andrei Arshavin (replaced Song 68′): 7/10
Came on for the last 20 minutes or so and as usual things weren’t really happening for him. So as you would expect, he ended up popping up with the winner! Almost pressed the self destruct button with a crazy back header to Szczesny in the final moments but fortunately it didn’t change the result.
Nicklas Bendtner (replaced Walcott 77′): 6/10
Not really enough time to make a difference but must have done something right as his introduction to the game saw Arsenal score twice in quick succession! Gave the Barcelona defence something else to think about.