Barcelona dominated Emirates last night with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Sergio Busquets being among the Catalan soldiers who missed chances in the first half. If all the chances were accounted for, Barcelona would have entered the dressing room with at least 3 away goals to their name. But that was not to be – lady luck was being a bit too nice to Arsenal, especially to Manuel Almunia.
Although Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas were subbed off due to injury but relying on less-than-100%-fit players was just a price they had to pay to keep Barca at bay. As Arsenal walked out from the dressing room for the second half, scattered, Barca’s men were waiting in the tunnel to walk out together with all their teammates.
It was still nil-nil and second half kicked off. The 46th minute saw Gerard Pique launch a long ball forward and Ibra taking an excellent touch to lob it over Almunia – who realized that he should not have charged half way through. 13 minutes later we saw Xavi with another one of those relatively long balls with Ibra again at the recieving end and blasting a shot past the hopeless Almunia (match highlights).
Soon after that, Theo Walcott was introduced by Arsene Wenger. Hoping that his bullet-like pace will help Arsenal turn the game around. Apparently, Pep Guardiola did not see that coming and Walcott did exactly what he was asked to. In the 69th minute he left the Barca defenders way behind and shot at goal. Arguably, that was a stoppable shot but Victor Valdes could not keep it out.
The game went on, both sides got their chances but none as significant as the ones Barca got in the first half – the first 20 minutes to be exact. Arsenal’s legend Theirry Henry was brought on but of no avail. Henry did not dare to show the spark and the pace, he usually does, to his ex-club – whom he loves so much – in their home ground.
Then in the 85th minute, something happened that the Guardian called “No one at the Emirates will forget the part Arsenal’s young captain played in a near-epic revival“. I can not help but disagree with Richard Williams. Because Cesc Fabregas did not do what a leader does and if anything, Fabregas’s last night’s performance is not even close to the ’embodiment of the spirit of a leader’.
Arsenal’s young captain, Mr Cesc Fabregas was not fouled. On top of that, the referee decided to show a straight red to the Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol. The replay in the reverse angle shows it all. It was a mistake on the referee’s behalf and Fabregas was lucky that he called for a penalty and got it.
If you look at the replay closely, you will notice that his leg surely got tangled between Puyol’s legs but it was not intentional, neither was it a foul nor a red card. It was one of those offenses in the 18 yard box that are ignored by the man-in-charge. But Fabregas’s theatrics made it look like a penalty to the referee.
I accept that Barcelona screwed up twoards the end of the second half. They had scored two goals and they were slowing down the pace of the game when Arsenal started to pick up the game. Around the same time, Walcott came in and he took full advantage of his pace and Blaugrana’s laid back approach. But notably, Walcott was only allowed to go through twice. After that, he was taken care of – unfortunately by then, he had already scored.
Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger said about the tie:
“Barca’s display was art. Football but art. It was a great football night and I don’t deny we were outplayed most of the game.”
“I have to say we played against a great team who were dominant in the early part of the game and that’s where we were lucky because they had a lot of early chances.”
“The way we gave the ball away today is beyond understanding. But the regret I have is, and I don’t deny we played against a great side, that we conceded two cheap goals.”
Funny. Wenger called Barca’s goals cheap after admitting how miserably Arsenal were surviving in the first half. Barcelona walked off at halftime with an astonishing 71% possession. At the same time, I have to give it to Wenger who at least tried to play their usual games. In last year’s Champions League campaign, Chelsea and Manchester United’s tactics against Barcelona were nothing but shameful.
Pep Guardiola stated:
“We came away from our place and played our style of football. “We’ve done a great thing and have a great chance of qualifying for the next round.”
“We are happy with this result because it is a good result when you play away, but we could have killed the game. We have to be more focused or we could go out.”
“Last year, we won all the prizes but we never played away in the Champions League like today. Never, never. The first 45 minutes was the best my team has played.”
In related news, Arshavin and Gallas are out for three weeks whereas Fabregas is out for six (link). So, Gunners… Good luck in the Nou Camp!
On the contrary: Arsenal have mountain to climb in the Champions League