Report: Arsenal 2 Barca 1

Arshavin gets the winner (Photo: Tony Marshall/Empics Sport)

And so it begun, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated match of the world football season so far and a replay of the most exciting match of last year, although with a fuller strength Arsenal this time – and one with something very much to prove – not even the most optimistic Barça fan would presume to see as one-sided a tie as that of last year. What most Barça fans would not have expected was to see their side so mirror the last match by squandering numerous chances in the first half before capitulating two goals late in the game to leave only a David Villa away goal as a prize to take back for the second leg at the Camp Nou.

The first ten minutes signalled Arsenal’s intent, with their back four pushing high up the pitch to squeeze the midfield and mirroring Barça’s own tactics of heavy pressure in recovering the ball. An early high tackle on Xavi within the first 2 minutes and a yellow card for Alex Song for a foul on Messi within the first 10 minutes also showed that Arsenal would be willing to get physical and would not be playing with any fear. Barça, of course, from the start were quick to show how they like to play football: quick interchange of passing, our own pressure on the ball, and the fullbacks forward at every opportunity. With space so compressed in midfield neither team strung many passes together and it produced a nail biting first ten minutes with the ball breaking out of midfield, with Messi’s acceleration disquieting the opposition back line and only Djorou’s reactions blocking a Villa run on goal, however it was Arsenal who looked the more dangerous, with the pace of Walcott and Van Persie and also good passing between Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere around the box reminding of Barcelona themselves playing at the Camp Nou. The best chance of this early period came on the 7th minute with Walcott showing both his speed and dribbling skills, before passing to Fabregas who chipped a ball over the back line to Van Persie, whose rocket of a shot was blocked well by Valdes.

Barcelona, however, are not used to not having possession and worked hard to pressure Arsenal and soon begun to relax into their familiar groove of nice triangles played around midfield, full use of the back four with Valdes as an extra man, and Villa, Messi and Pedro beginning to interchange well. On the 14th minute Messi  was played through on goal by a lovely pass from Villa, and Messi did well to send Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to ground, however Messi’s chip, which cules are so used to seeing floating into the back of the net, drifted wide of the far post. A good pass through the backline from Iniesta to Villa was snuffed out by another quick take by Szczesny. By halfway through the first half Barcelona had increased their possession to 60% however Arsenal looked the more dangerous on the break, with the ball swept out to Walcott on the right or Nasri on the left. On the 25th minute, Arsenal broke and were three on three with the defence before Fabregas received it wide and a dangerous cross was just cleared from the onrushing Van Persie by a decisive header from Abidal on the six yard box. But then, in the very next minute, Messi received the ball in the middle of the park, accelerated towards the box before slipping a pass through to Villa who, without taking a touch, played a clean strike under the onrushing Szczesny and sent the travelling fans into jubilation. 1-0 Barcelona.

Arsenal continued to compete for the remainder of the half and their physicality showed their intent with Song being lucky to not see a second yellow card with numerous aggressive challenges, however the majority of chances came to Barcelona, in particular a Dani Alves’s break on the right which came to Pedro but his flick was parried by the busy Szczesny. On the 37th minute nice interplay between the front three led to Pedro shooting close to Szczesny, his parry deflected off Pedro and came to Messi who with a diving header sent the ball into the back of the net. The goal was incorrectly disallowed as Messi was behind Pedro both for the parry off the keeper and the subsequent deflection off Pedro. At the whistle the game was still competitive but Barcelona looked the more likely to stretch their lead.

There were no changes at the start of the second half and Arsenal came out showing renewed vigour and Jack Wilshere seemed continually the man with some space to play; a nice one-two with Van Persie led to a snatched shot from the edge of the box from the 19 year old within the first five minutes of the resumption of play. Barcelona however remained in the driving seat, with more possession, more passes (nearly double), more passes successfully completed, and a number of good chances including a charge from Pedro into the area before being bundled off the ball by Koscielny (a possible penalty but never likely to be given in a game of this magnitude) and Messi played through on the left but Szczesny quickly closed the angle and forced Messi to place his shot wide into the side netting, however – and caveats seem the order of the day with this match – Arsenal still looked dangerous and slowly the balance begun to shift. Substitutions on the 67th minute indicated each respective coach’s intentions, with Villa coming off for Keita (a more defensive move with Iniesta moving forward to the left) and Song making way for Arshavin (an attacking midfielder coming on for a defensive one). Nine minutes later Wenger cemented his intent by bringing Bendtner on for Walcott – a striker for a winger. Then in the 78th minute from a seemingly innocuous position Gael Clichy and Arshavin interchanged on the left before Clichy chipped a ball towards the area, which Van Persie latched onto and from the byline thrashed a cross-come-shot towards goal that beat Valdes at his near post and went into the goal. Valdes was only forgivable in that I don’t think even Van Persie knew whether he was shooting or crossing.

Barça tried to rally and pressed forward, however their passing continually broke down within the area through some determined and well organised defending and a lack of precision and lethal intent. Then on the 83rd minute as another Barça attack broke down the scramble to recover the ball left our midfield bunched in the middle of the pitch leaving Arsenal space to break with Nasri charging down the wing on the right before having the composure to stop and cut the ball back across the area to the oncoming Arshavin, who too had the composure to watch Valdes moving one way and pass the ball the other into the back of the net. From a position of dominance, in five minutes Barcelona was 2-1 down.

The team battled on and placed a lot of pressure on their opposition but it never seemed to particularly threaten and Arsenal still looked as likely to score another on the break to perhaps leave the tie unrecoverable. Adriano came on in the 88th minute for Iniesta but at this late stage it was unclear what the change was meant to effect; hopefully Iniesta has not received a knock. Barcelona had a good shout for a penalty after Arshavin handled the ball in the area from a cross meant for Dani Alves. There were two minutes of added time and then that was that. Arsenal 2, Barcelona 1.

Barcelona may have played more passes but Arsenal arguably played the more meaningful passes, more direct, and moved more successfully and more quickly into the attacking third providing their players with more space from which to threaten. Barça’s passing was good, but rarely was it lightning quick, and a good display from a much questioned Arsenal backline meant that most Barça moves were smothered through the centre. Arsenal were happy to cede us space on the wings and this strategy was only helped by poor performances from Dani Alves and Maxwell going forward, although both should be commended for managing to maintain their defensive duties; Maxwell certainly did not have the torrid time dealing with Walcott that he did last year.  Abidal had a good game, and Xavi and Busquets were excellent, but Iniesta underwhelmed, Villa was relatively quiet aside from his goal, as was Pedro, and Messi was so much less than his sublime best. Much of this is to the credit of Arsenal, and had some excellent individual displays, including the mentioned Jack Wilshere, the ever influential Cesc Fabregas, and in particular Laurent Koscielny, however the whole team showed more guts than they are often credited with and Wenger’s attacking substitutions when a goal behind seemed to be the necessary caution thrown to the wind to further press his team forward. Pep Guardiola’s substitutions seemed conservative in comparison, and to be fair to him would probably be described as sensible if not for the fact that his team lost, although if the team were to really commit to a more defensive formation, perhaps a slight change of shape and the introduction of Mascherano who has much familiarity with Arsenal rather than Keita may have been a better move?

Looking to the next leg, Barcelona has an away goal and need score just one goal at the Camp Nou to take the tie. Gerard Pique, however, received a yellow card for a foul on Fabregas that will mean he will miss the return leg so unless Puyol progresses sufficiently to return this will leave our backline severely diminished, with either an out-of-form Milito or Busquets standing in. The tie can definitely still be won – in fact it wouldn’t surprise me if Barcelona remain the bookie’s favourites – however we will need our side to step up its game, create more telling chances, and take them far better when they come. Playing as we did tonight and on Saturday against Sporting Gijon the team cannot lay claim to the mantle of the world’s best, let alone one of the all time greats. I expect that at the return at the Camp Nou we will see the true mettle of our team again.

Valdes 6.5, Alves 5.5, Pique 6.5, Abidal 7.5, Maxwell 5.5, Busquets 8, Xavi 8, Iniesta 6.5, Pedro 6.5, Messi 7, Villa 7., Keita (m68, 6), Adriano (m89 -)

Yellow cards Song 8th minute, Nasri 28th, Iniesta 31st, Pique 59th, Van Persie 85th

Red cards: none

Goals: David Villa 26th minute, Robin van Persie 78th, Andrey Arshavin 83rd

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19 Responses to Report: Arsenal 2 Barca 1

  1. Not too fussed over this result. We got a crucial away goal and for the most part outplayed Arsenal pretty convincingly for majority of the 90mins. The result was decided on some questionable decision making by Valdes (the Valdes of old appearing?) and some weird misses by Messi. Arsenal did what they should do and win at home.

    Much more concerned about Pique being out…we are extremely thin at the back and the bottom line is we need both Pique and Puyol fit at any given time because I have no faith in Milito or anyone else in the CB role (Abidal has been great but needs to be on the left).

    Expect us to dominate at Nou Camp and get through 3-1.

  2. Tacklr says:

    It was clear in the first minute that Arsenal wanted it. They wanted to win it.

    I still believe that we’ll be different animal at home, but, remember that when we played them last year at Camp New, they had 7 of their first team missing, and Almunia in goal. Erm… and they scored first.

    Now, they’ve won the first leg. They’ve got everybody fit. Even Sagna (a fullback with strength, speed and crossing ability) will be in their squad in the expense of that shaky Eboue. They’ve got players strong in the air (Bendtner in example) and tricky ones: Nasri, Arshavin, van Persie, Wilshere and our own Cesc. And boy, I’ll never believe that Koscielny and Szszesny are playing their first season in the top flight.

    They’re dangerous on the counter, hope Gardiola will watch many Arsenal matches next few weeks. They’ll have few easy games between now and March 8th, one FA tie, a Carling Cup final and two premier league games.

    And yes, Arsenal and Everton are my favourite teams in England 😉

  3. FCB-Parbo says:

    Oh boy, here we go again. We dominated the game, but we were lacking shooting precision. Messi looked a little bit uninterested occasionally or maybe tired at some point and I didn’t see much of Pedro. We have missed Puyol so much at the back. Again, we had so many chances but couldn’t convert them. Well, luck was not on our side.

    We will dominate at Camp Nou and this time the goals will go in. We will go through, coz we need only one goal on the return.

    Visca Barca!!!

  4. Just as much as Arsenal needed this win to boost their lack of confidence, Barcelona needed this challenge. The loss even more so. From what I saw of the match (was at work and limited to a bad stream online) it looked like Arsenal really did their homework and put together a supreme effort against our Blaugrana. I was impressed, much as it pained me to watch the score shift.

    All is far from lost, however. We have an away goal and we play at home now. Pep will have to take this match apart and put together an effective response to the Gunners’ gameplay. We have to admire and respect what Arsenal have done, even thank them, because now the ante just went up and we can return the focus and feel the hunger to get back in there. It’s our turn to answer the Question, something the squad rarely has to do these days, since we’re usually the ones asking it.

  5. Chris (formerly Barsa4life) says:

    Hay guys. Firstly i would like to apologize for not commenting much for a long long time. i’d like to praise Darren, Nic and all the ones behind this blog. U guys ROCK!!!

    Work has been keeping me on my toes, and it has been relatively a gr8 season for Barsa this year besides 1 or two below par performances. (i only write when i can’t sleep/ troubled) Now, screw my job, i am what some might say, ‘childishly’ troubled by the performance of Barsa at the Emirates last night.

    Although many might debate that Arsenal are a strong side, and it was always gonna be a close encounter, but Barsa were really low in morale after the break.

    What happened during the break? The entire team came out after the break with a sudden drop of urgency, the whole team, PEP included, showed a lack of respect for Arsenal in the 2nd half. Seriously, how could you take off David Villa for Keita? What are the reasonings for this? to add beef in midfield? NO if we wanted to neutralize them, surely bringin on MASCHERANO would be a far better choice. And why Villa? Why not Pedro? This is mind boggling. And then comes Adriano for Iniesta…..seriously???

    I respect Pep, i love the job he has done for Barsa. But last nights game made me think about a rumour. GUYS, I WANT YOU TO SHARE YOUR TOUGHTS ON THIS. Do you belief that illegal syndicates control World football? last night the odds at half time were strongly in favour of Barsa to add up to their lead at the Emirates. Many were placing their money on Barsa during the break……and there comes the unexpected !!!!

    What do you guys think? At the current moment Barsa are favourites to win the CL and the League….but i have this funky feeling that we are just gonna win one of these titles. Seriously, i’m gutted by the performance of our team in last nights 2nd half. Barsa at their best should be able to win it all this season……..many an individual know this fact. And if we do win it all, the syndicates make a huge lost. Could there be a conspiracy or is this rumour just a lame rumour?

    • Hi Chris –

      That’s some serious thoughts there. While I don’t doubt for a second that there are aspects of corruption in football – I’d like to think that FCB are above this.

      Pep’s subs were flat out wrong and incorrect, I agree. However he has the finger pointed at him before with weird subs – I like to think that if it all came off we would be hailing Pep, but this was not the case against Arsenal. However to me Pep has earnt enough kudos to get some free passes on some of his dubious moves…today he simply stuffed up, yet we still dominated for much and didn’t take chances..if we drew would you be ok with that result?

  6. Chris (formerly Barsa4life) says:

    For the 2nd leg many would not dare to hope for Barsa to thump Arsenal more than a difference of 2 goals, but what if Barsa wins big?

    Don’t get me wrong, i’d love Barsa to win big, but seriously a victory of 3 goals and above or a draw would favour the bookies. This is scandalous, if its true. I hate feeling that i’m wasting my time…

    mistakes happen in football, but i’f watched last night’s game for the third time in a row now and i cant help but feel a slight doubt in many parts that the 2nd half in particular was STRANGE beyond reasonings.

  7. DAYYIB-SM says:

    Hi guys all of you….. i am sorry not to comment on this blog.. but i was little busy…

    last night i did not sleep after the game till morning.. it’s sad to watch barce suffers…
    i will tell you one thing i have confidence of our players but i have lost the confidence of our coach pep…. because i have watched barca since 1994…. and still i don’t like his substitute…always he is good to make best eleven but beyond that eleven he is nothing…
    ask question your self why pep wants short squad because he can’t manage beyond the eleven…… don’t understand wrong since 2008 barca never won away match after the group stage…. so what is wrong? take the answer from your mind……look deeply the game against inter last season….he substituted a striker with defender and the team is two gaols down…… same history last night why he substituted villa instead of pedro? it can be right with one gaol advantage…..why iniesta off and bring to adriana?????…..

    all in all our players will do what ever to take to next stage…..i hope barca will defeat them more than 3 goals…….
    this is not a debate it’s my opinion may either i would right or wrong…..

    thnks all guys who contributed on this blog specially Darren, Nic.

  8. Lockie17 says:

    1-2 away from home is not the worst result in the world, we dominated the game for 70 minutes, 1 terrible mistake by Valdes and a goal on the counter attack an all oft the sudden Arsenal are the best team in the world and Barcelona have been destroyed!! lets get real here, were still in a great position to qualify and i think us not being able to beat Arsenal in the Camp Nou will be a bigger shock than losing last night! Peps decision to bring of Villa is one that he has made in a lot of games this season and for once it has back fired. Lets stick with the team and enjoy what is the greatest Barcelona team side ever.
    I actually think the loss could work in our favor and get the hunger back in the squad, we dropped off in the second half as if it was too easy in the first. The first 45 minutes were superb and if Messi was in not such a forgiving mood the tie would be done and dusted! We had a goal wrongly disallowed, 3 penalty claims turned down, come on we hardly played bad.

    P.S. Can you become a member of Barcacentral, is there any fans here from London?

    • Hilal says:

      Well said Lockie. A bit too much doom and gloom from Barca fans for my liking. Its only wastefulness and bad decisions that lost us this game. Its not like we were completely outplayed by Arsenal, in fact for long stretches of that game we completely outplayed them, in their own house, in front of all their screaming fans. The linesman calling Messi’s goal offside was what saved them because at that point we had all the momentum and we were in clear control of the game. Had that goal stood (as it should have) then I am sure we would have won the game, but this is football and shit happens. It cant always go our way and we cant expect the team to perform like machines everytime they get on the pitch. IF anything this games puts into perspective just how difficult it is to consistently play at the level that these players do week in/week out. Every season there is a dip in form come February and thats what we are seeing now.

      I have no doubt whatsoever that when they come to the Camp Nou on the 8th March things will be very different indeed. Our players will be hungry and they will be pissed after the loss and unlike Inter, Arsenal will not park the bus. I am very confident that we will beat them, and that we will do so comfortably.

      P.S I live in London Lockie

  9. Lockie17 says:

    Follow me on Twitter Lockie17

  10. Maddy says:

    Fair write up. Although I still feel Messi was perfectly in line when Pedro shot but slightly off when the rebound came off him.

    Well, whatever it was, it was a great game. Full credit to our sides for such an exhibition and I look forward to the return leg. We in all probability will be beaten, but I’m mightly proud of my team right now 🙂

  11. bc9jaCule says:

    Albeit we had some defensive deficiencies and failed to take our chances (especially Messi’s undoing), everyone will agree with me that the eventual outcome of the match was utterly avoidable as I strongly suppose that it was Pep’s terrible first substitution that killed that tie. He was restless, losin’ composure as the final whistle drew nearer — despite taking the lead. Reminds me of what he did when he congratulated Guss Hiddink when the match was still very much on durin’ our CL semifinal tie with Chelsea two seasons ago.

    Keita for Villa @ 68 mins against an ever vibrant Arsenal side that plays almost exactly like we do …………………. seriously?!?!?!?!?!?!

    In my opinion, through that unjustified gesture, he indirectly asked the boys to take their feet off the gas and just sit relax and defend the 1-goal lead. An experienced Wenger, being a veteran coach, took the initiative perfectly by replacin’ a tired Walcot and a strugglin’ Song with two fresh and fast attackers — Bendtner and Arshavin — so as to avail themselves of our ever vacant wings at the back — Maxwell’s and Alves’s wings — and it paid him dividends just like the last time. Little wonder Clichy had the rude guts to leave his defendin’ responsibility — which he stuck to while Villa was still in action — to get involved in the midfield play and create an assist for RVP. QUITE DISGUSTING!!!!!

    No offense!!! But connect the dots and you’ll realize that Pep just exposed his coachin’ naivety and inexperience to the entire world of football because his wrong substitution tactics evinced that he learned nothin’ from our last encounter with them when from 2 goals up, we drew 2 — 2 at the Emirates also a few minutes to the end of the match. What I’m sayin’ is; Wenger actually won Pep not that Arsenal won Barca because they didn’t — judgin’ from the way we maneuvered them on their own turf. Why does Pep have to invite excessive pressure into the second leg when we could have stamped our authority in the first? Seriously, I need an answer!!!

    And don’t get me wrong, please!!! I still have a very very strong faith in Pep and his tactics or ‘instincts’ as he dubs it. But, more often than not, he offends me with his substitutions or shall I call it GAMBLIN’!!!.

    However, I’m sure the boys must have learned a painful lesson and realize that they have to shake off the “FIFA WHATEVER” and switch over to their “MANITA OVERDRIVE MODE” startin’ right off with Bilbao over the weekend — as they did @ the beginnin’ of the season after playin’ a loss and a draw with Hercules and Mallorca respectively.

    And as for the second leg with Arsenal, I’ve chosen to keep my fingers crossed and I want to b’lieve that we’ll laugh last — INSHA ALLAH!!! So let them bask in the euphoria of their victory for three weeks which I hope turns miserable for them after March 8.

    Forca Barca!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. barcacentralroger says:

    It’s amazing, all we needed was a loss to bring all the old commentators out.

    Perhaps we should resign Ibrahimovic?

    Good to have everyone involved.

  13. barcacentralomer says:

    I had to go to sleep after the first half due to work commitments the next day but wasn’t too pleased to read the scoreline in the morning.How could we have been so wasteful and complacent to let Arsenal back in the match? It was like deja vu of last season’s encounter with the Gunners. I was a bit surprised with the performances of some players like Pedro [whom I had praised in my last post…lol], Villa and even Don Andres. These players certainly didn’t look like the guys we see every weekend in La Liga making a mockery of opposition defences. Magical Messi also seemed to be stuck in ‘average’ mode and missed a number of ‘sitters’ by his own lofty standards. Xavi and Sergio were both very good but I think they were cancelled out by Fab and Wileshire at the other end.

    Pique still doesn’t look like one of the best CBs in the world to me [based on his recent performances] or maybe he misses the stability that Puyol brings to our CB pairing and needs time to adjust with a new partner. Hopefully Puyol will be back in time for the return leg as Pique is suspended but then we’ll have another ‘new’ CB pairing of Putol and Abidal to worry about.I’m not going to be too critical of our fullbacks because a game against Arsenal was always expected to be an open affair.

    We have a few games before the second leg so I’m not going to go into that for now but I’m wondering if with this squad we will be able to both hold back Real in La Liga and at the same time remain the team to beat in the CL. Lets do 2009 all over gain people…:)

  14. AdrianDR says:

    I know we still have a great chance of winning at home and making up for this game, but the last few weeks in general have been kind of underwhelming. It feels like it isn’t the same team we were seeing early on in the season, although I know it’s probably just me worrying too much. Anyways, I do have to say Arsenal is a scary team. They play with such an attack-minded philosophy that I wonder if maybe our team could learn a thing or two from them. I don’t know if you guys agree but although Arsenal are supposedly so much like us, at the same time are so different. When Arsenal starts passing and running they do it with purpose and every possession they try to go for the goal, whereas Barca sometimes just pass and pass and end up doing nothing. I want to see a more agressive Barcelona, not a Barcelona that looks tired and forgot to eat their breakfast in the morning.

    • barcacentralroger says:

      I totally agree regarding the attack-mindedness of the Arsenal – something I tried to get at in the post – that when Arsenal receive the ball in their own area they are much quicker to then move from their defensive third into the attacking third – ie, they don’t try to hold the ball in midfield and just move it straight to attack. This is obviously something that Barca have something to do with – ie, you wouldn’t try to compete with Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets – however this fast transition means that there is still space behind our high line to attack us. We, on the other hand, play slow build up, which means they have time to get a significant number of players behind the ball, forcing us to move more men up in order to compete in numbers (both wingbacks and even centrebacks) leaving a lot of space in our half of the pitch – in fact, often with only Valdes in it! – and therefore very vulnerable to… the aforementioned fast transition from defense to attack by Arsenal.

  15. Caleb says:

    It was a close game. For me, Iniesta and Messi looked the furthest off their usual game. I can hardly remember Iniesta having so many bad touches in a game. He lost the ball far more than I’m used to (4 times or more).

    Messi had a number of times where he just got the ball to far in front of him. Very unusual. And his finishing was anything but what we’ve come to expect.

    Pedro wasn’t great. But honestly I don’t expect him to get the better of Clichy. I would hope that Dani Alves would do a bit better, though. For me Alves gave a lot of balls away. Then again I’m used to Alves doing that some…

    Abidal was really good. Again.

    Valdes was a bit unlucky in my opinion. The first goal he should have been better positioned, but the second goal he had Pique standing right in front of him.

    Maxwell did well with Walcott.

    I would say was had a number of players just a little bit off, and we still got an “ok” result… *If we play a good game and the Gunners don’t play one of the best games of their season (as I think they did in this game) I see us going through. We’re simply better. But if we’ve got a lot of player under performing again we could well be out of this competition.

    It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough either.

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