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Laurent Koscielny intercepts the ball for what feels like the hundredth time. He stops Barcelona’s attack dead like a wave breaking on a rocky shore. He pauses for a moment, deliberating over what to do with his second or two in space. Soon confronted by an wall of aqua, he twitches the ball right in customary fashion, seeking out Nicklas Bendtner, the only red shirt with courage enough to ask for the ball at this tense moment.
His first touch is good, his man backs off him briefly. But by dallying on the ball he attracts the attention of five Barcelona players, hungry to turn his self-confidence and awkward style into a chance of their own. It is in this moment that everything changes, for just as he looks certain to lose the ball, he squeezes a pass out to the left. One of the men pressuring him stretches out a leg but it finds its way to Jack Wilshere.
Arsenal’s world shifts.
Wilshere speeds the attack up instantly, controlling and passing the ball with the same touch. He understands where the players are around him. He understands that Koscielny and Bendtner have completed the hard task of moving the ball beyond Barcelona’s press. He knows there is space in behind and it his responsibility to take advantage of it. He is 19. He shouldn’t know.
He fires the ball into the feet of Cesc Fabregas just shy of the centre circle.
Upon receiving the ball the captain is already aware of the space afforded to him. He cushions the pass with his left foot, pirouetting on the ball like a figure skater setting up for a spectacular finale, and slides the ball up the pitch with the outside of his right foot. He has the ball for no more than half a second, but in that time uses it better than most will in their entire career.
His pass angles into the path of Samir Nasri, who is charging down the right-hand flank like it is the first minute of the game. It is not. It is the eighty-fifth minute and due to a hamstring strain he has not played football in three weeks. He should not have the energy to do what he is doing. But he does.
Nasri has spent the game probing the left side of the pitch, wearing down Dani Alves’ mind and body with his exquisite dribbling skills. This time he pops up on the right and draws the attention of three Barcelona players. The direct nature of his first touch, driving towards the goal, convinces a scrambling Pique to give him space. Abidal also sits off to cover space, leaving Nasri one-on-one with Keita.
He cuts inside. Everybody in the stadium expects him to shoot. He pauses for a moment to survey the movement of the players around him. He spots a player on the far side with his hands out-stretched. He notes the dawdling nature of the man who is supposed to be marking him, the man he has turned inside and out throughout the game. Like Bendtner three passes before, he squeezes the ball beyond the lunge of Maxwell — his desperation exaggerated by the frazzled nature of his flowing brown hair — and into the path of his intended target.
Barcelona’s world shifts.
Pique, standing by Victor Valdes’ side to help prevent the expected Nasri shot, now blocks the goalkeeper’s view. From loyal soldier he becomes a nuisance. Valdes peeks around his distractor’s body in an attempt to reassess a situation that is rapidly getting out of their control.
Andrey Arshavin’s little legs take three steps too many as he lines up to strike the ball. He prods at the ball without breaking stride, hitting a shot that penalty-taking manuals forbid. He doesn’t even place it in the corner.
But at the moment he makes contact the three men in front of him are moving the wrong way. They cannot shift quickly enough.
The ball goes in.
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Watch the goal again here.