Barcelona (4) – (1) Arsenal
Champions League Quarter Final (2nd Leg)
Camp Nou, Barcelona
What a frustrating game to watch.
Despite Arsenal missing players Van Persie, Gallas, Fabregas, Campbell, Song, Arshavin and Djourou – essentially half a team – they were in this tie.
After a solid opening 18 minutes, Arsenal were defensively disciplined and Barcelona found it difficult to make any clear opportunities, with the only real effort of note a Lionel Messi shot from outside the area that Almunia saved comfortably enough.
And the focused display was rewarded when Abou Diaby won the ball on the halfway line, played in Walcott with a perfectly timed ball and he played in Bendtner. The pass wasn’t the best but the Great Dane managed to get an effort on target which was saved by Valdes, but Bendtner recovered excellently and scored the opening goal.
But then, Arsenal literally self-destructed and gifted Barcelona an easy ride.
The back pages of tomorrow’s newspapers and every football website will be raving about Lionel Messi being a player who is from another planet. The best player in the world who annihilated Arsenal.
But the sad fact of the matter was Messi wasn’t phenomenal against us. Arsenal gift-wrapped his 4 goals with amateurish and naive defensive mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong, Messi is an incredible talent. And for me, he could be the greatest the game has ever seen. But he didn’t have to get out of second gear to score his goals. He didn’t score from a piece of magic, or some sensational dribble. His goals were straightforward and put on a plate for him.
Arsenal defensively were shambolic and collapsed as soon as Bendtner gave us the lead.
And that is the most frustrating thing of all. We were solid and focused for 20 minutes but were woeful for the rest of the game. The second half was painful to watch as Barcelona cruised to victory without breaking a sweat.
Once Bendtner gave us the lead, we collapsed. Diaby was absolutely shocking again, and had a glorious chance to release Walcott but instead lost the ball, from which Barcelona equalised. And even then we didn’t deal with the goal very well.
Diaby lost the ball, Barcelona broke and a cross was played into the box, only for the geriatric Mikael Silvestre to obviously not realise the ball was near him and he poked it to Messi, the worlds most dangerous player, to have a free shot right in front of the goal. Great defending there.
So that was gift number one.
After failing to even hold onto the lead for 5 minutes, the collapse continued as Arsenal kept losing possession cheaply and giving Barcelona exactly what they wanted – lots of the ball. The sad thing was for all of Barcelona’s high intensity pressing game, they didn’t have to work hard to get the ball back, we gifted it to them.
And on 37 minutes Messi scored again.
A cross from Abidal from the left was well cut out by Vermaelen, but Pedro pushed the ball back to Messi who had all the time in the world to lash a shot passed the stranded Almunia.
Barcelona had come back without even having to break a sweat.
Then we conceded the customary “break away” goal as Messi ran free and had the time to chip the ball over Almunia. 3-1 to Barcelona and memories of Rooney and Drogba scoring break away goals against us in the league.
Half time came and I still believed that we could nick the couple of goals that would see us through. That was based on the belief that we couldn’t play as badly as we did in the second part of the first half.
But Barcelona had learnt their lesson from the first leg and played much deeper and kept the ball away from us. Possession is nine tenths of the law and we couldn’t get the ball. And unfortunately, on the rare occasions that we did win the ball, we wasted it. It was frustrating to watch as this Arsenal team couldn’t string 3 passes together.
It was a case of having the ball in decent areas of the pitch but not doing anything with it. Instead of releasing a fellow player or moving the ball far to often players like Nasri and Diaby would dwell on the ball and inevitably lose it after being closed down by 3 Barcelona players.
I cannot count how many times Diaby lost the ball tonight.
We had the game in our hands, and despite missing numerous first team players we still fielded a team that could have progressed tonight. Arsene Wenger called for 120% effort, intelligence and commitment and if we had that then we could have got something from the game. But we didn’t release Theo anywhere near as he should have, lost possession far to easily and didn’t use the ball well at all. This is not the first time I’ve seen Theo in the team and no-one seems to pass to him, do some of the players have a problem with him? Because when I watch it seems like it.
It doesn’t take 120% intelligence to work out Barcelona’s weakness. Theo Walcott ran them ragged in the first leg and he was the one who set-up the opening goal tonight. Why didn’t we use him more after that?!
And I have to mention the officials, they were utterly shite.
The booking for Denilson when he clearly won the ball (about 20 seconds before he actually made contact with Messi) was unbelievable. Most of the decisions he made were shocking and the real nail in the coffin was the offside decision against Bendtner when Arsenal were 1-0 up. If that wasn’t given then it could have been a completely different game.
Manual Almunia: 7/10
Badly exposed for all of Messi’s goals so you couldn’t blame him for those.
Bacary Sagna: 7/10
Kept Pedro and Bojan quiet and supported the attack well.
Thomas Vermaelen: 7/10
Did well under the circumstances, considering he was doing two jobs at the back alongside Silvestre. Could see the frustration on his face at the performance around him and you couldn’t blame him.
Mikael Silvestre: 4/10
Never seen him play well for Arsenal, and was asking myself throughout the game why the hell he is at Arsenal. Red nose couldn’t wait to get rid of him so why would we want him? Shocking mistake for Barcelona’s first goal, and terrible overall. I realise he’s defensive cover but when you’re behind an ageing Sol Campbell and midfielder Alex Song in the pecking order you wonder why we can’t promote a youth talent into the squad.
Gael Clichy: 8/10
One of the few plus points tonight. Determined, quick, ran for every ball and made some vital interceptions. Most of our attacking play went through him on the left hand side. On 75 minutes, he ran 60 yards up the field after winning the ball and instead of passing took a pop shot from 25 yards which flew well over. And you know what, you couldn’t blame him – why pass to team mates when they do nothing with the ball?
Abou Diaby: 5/10
The Walcott pass was the only positive thing he did. After that, constantly lost the ball, strolled around the pitch and looked completely lost. He either has a fantastic game or just disappears. Unfortunately tonight it was the latter.
Did well considering, won the ball back in vital areas and was one of the few players who actually completed a pass. Made a fantastic tackle on Messi in he first half only to be booked.
Samir Nasri: 6/10
Couldn’t get into the game and looked dead in all honesty. Involved in a rough tackle from Milito in the first 15 minutes and seemed to struggle after. Just didn’t have enough of the ball to influence the game.
Tomas Rosicky: 6/10
Offered nothing and looked unfit. Had a decent chance in the second half but blew his shot well over the bar. Tracked back well and helped Clichy but couldn’t get forward and influence the game.
Theo Walcott: 7/10
The service wasn’t there for him. He was the outlet ball for the team but no-one gave him a decent ball to chase after the one for the first goal, so rendered hugely ineffective for the majority of the game.
Nicklas Bendtner: 8/10
Did excellently for his first goal but like Theo was let down from the lack of service from midfield. Had one chance tonight and he took it, so you couldn’t ask anymore from him.