Arsenal 2:2 Barcelona: The game of the season so far

Words cannot describe how good a game of football this was.

It was an emotional roller-coaster for Arsenal fans from start to finish: from the prolonged onslaught that Barcelona produced in the first half to our miraculously brave comeback which was completed when Cesc Fabregas hammered home his spot-kick.

2-2 it ended and although we scarcely deserved the result after Barcelona’s superiority in another way we completely did, displaying a never-say-die attitude that has served us so well at times this season.

There are so many things that can be discussed about this game but the main thing to say is that we’re still in it. We shouldn’t be, but we are.

It is a mark of the quality of Barcelona’s performance – and boy were they good! – that nearly every Arsenal supporter will be happy with the result. It leaves us with a lot of work to do in the Nou Camp but in this game logic went out the window and as well as our opponents played, it would not be beyond us to go to Catalonia and score a couple of goals and cause them some real problems.

Arsene Wenger pulled some big surprises in the starting line-up, beginning with Cesc Fabregas as well as rushing Andrey Arshavin and remarkably, William Gallas back into the side. The gamble backfired though as both Arshavin and Gallas were forced off during the first half for Emmanuel Eboue and Denilson, and now face respective three and six-week lay-offs.

Barcelona started this game in such a manner that they threatened to blow us away.

The statistics showed they had had nine efforts on goal and five shots on target in the opening 15 minutes while we had registered precisely zero. That we managed to survive that early onslaught was mainly down to the cool heads of Alex Song and Gael Clichy, the last-ditch defending of Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen and a remarkable performance by Manuel Almunia in goals.

Say what you want about his decision-making shortly after the break but this tie would be over had Almunia not put in such an inspired performance. A superb low save from Busquets early on set the tone and he followed it up with several brilliant stops including a great reflex save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a stunning close-range block on Xavi.

For all of Barcelona’s domination it was amazing that we might have taken a first-half lead on a number of occasions. Samir Nasri shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area, Abou Diaby headed wide from a half-chance while Nicklas Bendtner may well have scored if he had managed to keep himself onside at the critical moment.

Despite being battered from pillar to post and having to make a structural change because of the injury to Gallas (Song was moved to centre-back to allow Denilson into the middle, rather than bringing on Sol Campbell) we managed to get to half-time with our goal intact. It was a remarkable, scrappy, dogged performance that relied on last-ditch efforts and no little amount of luck but we got there.

At half-time I expected the manager to get into the players ears and encourage them to push the Barcelona players higher up the park to allow them less space to dictate the play. And while he may well have said something similar the team talk went out the window when Ibrahimovic waltzed through the offside trap after 20 seconds, Almunia wandered out of his goal and the Swede lifted the ball up and over him to open the scoring.

I would be unfair to say that Almunia undid all of his good work in the first-half with this mistake but with Song covering Ibrahimovic there was no need for him to move off his line. It was a disappointing way to concede, particularly so soon after the break and it got worse when Ibrahimovic scored a second, very similar goal, collected Xavi’s lofted pass to smash home a shot into the top corner.

At 2-0 down at The Emirates I couldn’t help but think about Manchester United last year in the Champions League semi-final. I couldn’t help but think about United in the league. About Chelsea in the league. About our inability to produce the goods against the very best teams in our home stadium. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the supporters in the stadium who were so badly craving a memorable night and had been let down so many times in the past couple of seasons.

What I didn’t expect was that they would get it tonight.

Wenger made the most important change of the night on 65 minutes when he brought on Theo Walcott for Sagna and shuffled Eboue to right-back. The combination of moves gave Walcott licence to have a go at Barcelona’s weakest player, Maxwell, as well as the opportunity for Eboue to drive us forward from deeper positions.

Both players were absolutely vital to our comeback as Eboue’s dribbling and Walcott’s blistering pace put Barcelona on the back foot for the first time. It also got us a goal when Bendtner placed a lovely pass in behind the defence and Walcott stuck it under Victor Valdes, who couldn’t have done any better, to make the score 2-1 on 70 minutes.

Rather unbelievably, the final 20 minutes were virtually all Arsenal. Barcelona made some chances, most notably an opportunity for Messi that was again well-blocked by Almunia. But for the first time in the match we were dictating the game and having more possession of the ball.

With five minutes to go Bendtner cleverly headed down a lofted cross to Fabregas and the captain was brought down in the box by Carlos Puyol. A penalty was given, a red card issued and we were given an opportunity to pull a game that could have been 5-0 after the first thirty minutes back to 2-2. Cesc took the opportunity, smashing his kick into the back of the net to level up the game.

I have many people saying that they didn’t believe that this should have been a penalty and that Puyol was unlucky to be sent off, but I just don’t understand this point of view. It was clear to me Puyol knew exactly what he was doing by placing his body where Cesc was going to strike the ball and the fact that the Barca captain made no attempt to play the ball himself supports that idea. It was a clever foul, if you can call it that, but the referee was right in penalising it and correct in brandishing the red card as he denied a clear chance on goal.

An inspirational Cesc played the rest of the game hobbling (we had already made three substitutions) after hurting himself in the collision with Puyol and the very bad news is that he has been ruled out for the rest of season with a fractured leg. He showed again what a little champion he is by putting in a gutsy and determined effort from start to finish. He rarely got his way among old friends (and the referee, who stupidly gave him a booking that would have ruled him out for the second leg for a perfectly good slide tackle) but he never let it get him down and eventually made the decisive contribution.

With Barca down to ten men for the final few minutes we pushed hard for a winning goal and although we didn’t find it, the final scoreline of 2-2 was brilliant considering the start we had made and the fact that we had come from two down. It was a testament to our mental qualities that we never dropped our heads, that the manager never lost his head and that we still created enough chances to get something out of the game.

While the fallout from the game is massive – to lose Fabregas, Gallas and Arshavin to serious injuries – I’m still hopeful about our chances of winning the league and optimistic about going to Barcelona and causing them some problems. Samir Nasri will be chomping at the bit to make his mark in Cesc’s position and with Song, Clichy, Denilson, Walcott, Eboue and Almunia all having strong games in the first-leg we have enough of a base to build on to be hopeful of doing something special at Camp Nou.

Wenger is a smart manager and he will have noted that a lack of pressure high-up the pitch when Barcelona had possession hurt us and will want that to change in the second leg.

Likewise he will know that we caused them a number of problems: we looked dangerous whenever our players dribbled at them with pace, Bendtner was virtually unstoppable in the air and when Barcelona’s high-pressing game ran out of puff we enjoyed some very nice possession. So there is reason for optimism even if Barcelona are clear favourites to go through.

The final thing I will say today is this: this Barcelona side are the best club team that I have ever seen in my time as a football observer and they were absolutely superb today. If our young squad can eventually replicate their style of play, as is Wenger’s vision, then we’re going to have one hell of a team in the next few years.

Thoughts?

Have your say on Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona by leaving a comment.

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33 Responses to “Arsenal 2:2 Barcelona: The game of the season so far”

  1. Mean Lean
    April 2, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    2-1 down! Don’t make it anymore difficult for us. Jeez!

    🙂

  2. Mean Lean
    April 2, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Actually, I am talking rubbish, we would be winning 2-1.

    Anyway fantastic game of football. I have the feeling that we will improve by so much more next week but Barca are a great side, the best I have ever seen.

  3. Andrew Weber
    April 2, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    Slight feed problem. Anyway, moving on!

  4. TheSKAGooner
    April 2, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Oddly enough, I think we might just have Barca right where we want them given how this season has gone for us.

    True, they took 2 goals from us at home and put on an utterly ridiculous display of football for the first 60-70 minutes or so. But for the lads to keep fighting that way, to launch a comeback, to finally expose Barca at the back and wrest control of the match the way we did will have them thinking. They know they ship goals on occasion and they’ve lost the heart of their defense for the second leg. Despite their experience doubts will be there for them as they gave us the absolute best they could and still could not deliver the knockout blow. It’s kind of like Rocky, where he gets beaten senseless for 7 or so rounds before launching a furious rally to take the fight late.

    I rather fancy us to pull off the major upset at the Nou Camp next week and move into the semis.

  5. Breezay
    April 2, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    Since my post on the blog yesterday made it in late today I have reinserted it today

    A couple things –

    First, AW, your rating of Denilson from your last post is WAY off (and you seem to have changed your mind). I know you don’t like him, and we have all had issues with some of his performances over the past few seasons, but he played GREAT when he came on. He made some superb tackles and his passing was of the same callibur.

    Second, as a team we give all teams we play far too much space with which to work. They were all over us like white on rice from the jump, and we just didn’t seem to that in us. I don’t think this means we need to pressure them sooo far up the pitch as to go into their half like our captain tends to do too much, but collectively as a group we need to apply far more pressure in our half than we do.

    Lastly, why do all the best defensive teams do one thing (besides closing down players immediately) that we never seem to be able to do? When you are on a man with the ball, and he makes a pass, then you MUST stay with him. We always drift off of him towards the ball when there is already someone there to take the man with the ball. That leaves open the one-two pass game, which they killed us with the first 60 minutes of the game. It creates a ripple effect of chasing the ball. Everyone begins to chase, creating situations where there are 3 and 4 men around the ball sometimes. That leaves other players wide open to rip us apart. That MUST be changed if we want to cope with the best teams in the world.

    Anyway, I am still optimistic as we are genuinely still in the tie. We can slot Eboue, Walcott, Rosicky, Eduardo, and/or Campbell into the squad next week to cover the injuries. We have coped without Cesc before and can do it again. I don’t think we will miss Arshavin and Gallas THAT much as Gallas hasn’t played in a while and Arshavin has been out of form for weeks now.

    Here’s to a good result next week…COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!

  6. Andrew Weber
    April 2, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    @ Breezay – The ratings are done by Aidan, not me 🙂 My rating of Denilson was 7.5, as I suggested in the comments.

  7. JEm
    April 2, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Thrilling but pyhhric. Damn.

  8. Breezay
    April 2, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    Gotcha…somehow I missed that!

  9. White Ox
    April 2, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    It would seem pyhhric JEm, but football is a strange game. Besides, the majority of Arsenal’s famous nights have come when we’ve widely been written off. It’s time for another.

    As for Manuel, well, I believe he showed us why Wenger persisted with him for the last few seasons and why he will never be good enough for Arsenal all in th eone game. You simply can’t ship a goal like the one that made it 1-0 but Almunia is a shot stopper and not a propper goalkeeper and will continue to make errors of judgement for as long as he plays. I don’t hate the man, far from it, but we must sign a number one in the summer. Sadly, the damage may already be done.

    Other than that Barcelona played the best half of football I’ve ever seen in my life. Make no mistake, they were out to prove a point; we are the best footballing side in the world and far superior to these pretenders from North London. The fact that our boys ended up making a point of their own is no small thing and to still be alive in the tie? Priceless. I can’t wait for next week.

  10. ozziearsenal
    April 2, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    @ Breezay I think Denilson really helped our passing game I dont care if it was side ways but we needed the ball at our feet the triangles passing game we played was one in front of the ball and 2 behine it gave barca the advantage,, in the late stages of the game we had 2 ahead of the ball and 1 behine ..I think our boys were brave young men who never gave up lets face it on paper we havent got a chance I mean their striker Ibr $ 48mill +Eto Messi worlds best also Euro champs midfield . Well its 11 V 11 at the nou camp fingers X I hope the boys give it a go and maybe with luck a win but I still proud at what the lads have done this season considering the amount of injuries this season

  11. darragh
    April 2, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Clichy was great throughout the match. I thought Song at fault for not picking up Ibrahimivich for the second goal.

  12. Cesc4Life
    April 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Spot-on Ratings by Aidan and an excellent match review Andrew.I watched the game again last night in full as i recorded it and couldn’t agree more with your assessment of our performance against arguably the best team in the world currently. They are the benchmark we should aim for with a few new signings and if we have any luck at all with our injuries.
    Sad as it is to see Fab,Arshavin and Gallas all knocked out plus now we have Clichy (back) and Denilson (groin) all doubts for the Wolves game,I worry that this could derail our season. I am keeping the faith still that we can still go on a winning run in the league and win it but I can’t help but feel a bit disheartened at our injuries..yes to draw 2-2 against Barca was great but the injuries we sustained to our key players was crucial to what’s coming up…which is the title run-in and the 2nd leg at the Nou Camp…but we have shown so much mental capabilities..the boys don’t give up..so let’s smash Wolves and grind out a 1-0 win at Barca’s home!

  13. Old Timer
    April 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    I assume by calling it the game of the season ‘so far’ you’re anticipating the 2nd leg might be even better?! Because that was an amazing match. It had almost everything. Almunia showed again that he is a great shot-stopper but perhaps not so good positionally. Even so the first goal wasn’t all his fault as Ibrahamovic was left unchallenged to run onto that long ball. Let the carpers say what they like I’m proud of our lads after that display. Barca played their best football and still couldn’t beat us, even with our players crocked – Gallas, Arshavin, Van P etc – and others, like Song, having to play out of position. Not only that but they were clearly rattled at the end of the game. I’ve been following football long enough to know that anything can happen in the next leg. How about B52 to have a stormer??

  14. el bizarron
    April 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    I wish I could share your optimism for the league and the second leg at Barcelona, Andrew, but with all the injuries, I’m not too confident. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

  15. Ricky
    April 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Is this the best performance of the season by Barcelona ? Can they show this type of performance only with Arsenal because of their style of play ?……

    I haven’t watched barcelona in the la liga……if they are playing as well as they played against us, I am suprised they are still tied with Real madrid instead of a big lead..

  16. Hendry Rupini
    April 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Brilliant performance by Arsenal to come back from 2-0 down to 2-2. Arsenal played well but Braca made us look like small boys just learning to play football in the first 60 minutes or so.
    Arsenal will have to keep the same tempo that they did in the last 30 minutes of the game when they play next week at Camp Nou.
    Playing at home is an advantage for Barca no doubt, but it can be a disadvantage as well. The pressure to perform well at home against Arsenal in such an important game can put some pressure on Barca and make them play out of sync. Arsenal needs to take advantage of this and give it all to win the game in such a way that the goal aggregate goes in our favour.
    It’s going to be tough for us but it’s not impossible.
    As they say – “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings”.

  17. TCP
    April 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    I’ve been watching laliga as well as epl, and I am convinced that the first 45 minutes in the emi was barca’s best display in terms of play and not goals. Even in that situation we managed to keep them at bay and even pulled a wonderful fightback to keep the tie. Barca must’ve been wondering why on earth did they fail to wrap things up. It would make them precarious on the next leg and would give us the opening we need to score goals and show the world what ‘these kids’ are made of! Come On You Arsenal!

  18. senior citizen
    April 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    I don’t believe Song was at fault for the 2nd goal. 2nd half had just started, where was Gael? Watch the preview again and you may share the same view with me.

  19. billi
    April 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    sounds good, and it’s time for Rosicky to come up …….. so long 😉

  20. Dante
    April 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    Denilson was great.Does anyone know if iniesta’s gonna play the 2nd leg?

  21. TCP
    April 2, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    I think iniesta is going to play and it will make them even more dangerous upfront because iniesta is the perfect partner for messi in exploiting the opponent’s left side defence. As for Arsenal, I really hope that Rosicky or even Vela can provide depth we crave so much especially in the absence of Arshavin and Nasri’s filling in cesc’s role in the midfield.

  22. GunnerPete
    April 2, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    I like your site and it is yet again a truthfull article, unlike the anti Arsene anti Gunners at Arsenal Truth etc. I really believe that we will see a shock result in Barcelona with the lads doing what they did to Inter a few years ago.

    I also think we will be selling Arsharvin,Bentner and Cesc in the summer. My hope is that AW will sign Dorrans of W.Brom and Dia Maria from Benfica (after agreeing to sign Maria only to see him turn up at Benfica instead 2 years ago). I think with the money we will get for the above trio will allow AW to also sign a gret CB or two, and hopefully he has already got Chamakh. I pray he will shock us and go for a Brit like Lambert of the Saints or Robson of Boro…they are naturals and would fit in well.

    The team against Wolves will be interesting Im sure they wont be playing 8 stiffs against us. But that sall we will have left to field against them. Im proud of the fight shown Weds but hope AW imroves his tactics for the return!

  23. shambogunner
    April 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    enjoyed the anaylsis andy, except for you attributing diaby with a ‘half chance header’ which he was well marshalled for that went tamely wide of goal and another embarrassing bentdner moment in front of goal which you say he mite hav finished had he been onside….well he didnt know he was off and he still conspired to miss TWICE for 6 yards out…..
    @breezay,
    tooright iv been sayin it for ages that we dont work back or squeeze the play enuf and when we do they shuffle like zombies to the ball, applying no pressure on the opponent and exposing ourselves to the quick 1-2 into space that we hav just vacated for them,anyone who has played the game at any level can tell watching that game wed nite,and in general, we hav no one forcing the issue.sure nasri,deni,arsha,diaby,theo, and even bentdner will spring to life when we hav the ball but without it they mite as well be in the stand with the fans. you wana see a player put in a selfless shift of harrying and dispossessing players,watchkevin doyle against us ,at the weekend id bet hetracks back into our half and dispossesses us at least 5 times
    p.s for those who think im too harsh on nasri,and maybe i am at times, look at andys pic from yesterdays posts, the one of cesc hitting the pen,a pen of monumental importance with minutes remaining……in the background,outside the area busquets is alive for the rebound or save,so is pique,so is bentdner and so is alves……..wots nasri doing????standing idle….i mean c’mon,and anyone who thinks that thats no biggie is a fool,he might not get the rebound but he might block a def getting there for a bentdner tap in….games are won and lost on fractions and how he cudnt hav the foresight there to be bothered speaks volumes….yeah yeah it didnt happen but it couldv

  24. Steve-O
    April 2, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    I just read a news flash saying Cesc has a fractured bone and will be out for the rest of the season. It’s depressing news. With Gallas and Arsharvin also out, the Gunners will be going out to long odds for the Premiership.

  25. aung mon
    April 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Arsenal has to play robustly instead of its own style in 2nd leg at Camp Nou.Young Gunners have still rays of hope.The final result is only answer.

  26. ArsenalTheWengerWay
    April 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    Barcelona’s tactical organisation was to perfection yesterday, they knew that we were dangerous, so Guardiola set out their team to make sure we didn’t receive the ball. We were basically starved. But we can play amazing football as well, go on youtube look at some of Arsenal’s play, it is just as good. But they had something we didn’t, tactics and experience. I’m not saying they aren’t better, it’s just that it wasn’t as open a game as some people think. Arsenal had no game plan, it was all go in and hope for the best. We weren’t organised in midfield, we stayed too deep. All these things coupled together will obviously end in a massacre.

    And thats exactly what we got, an absolute whipping because of our inexperience and naivety. But the second leg i think we will know what to expect, i mean we were shocked, we had never played a team that plays our brand of football and is better at it. In Every team in the EPL, no one plays like us. We know now and i think we won’t make the same mistake twice.

    Am i the only one who thought Vermaelen was brilliant?
    I know he was at fault for some of the goals but without him we would have been several goals down.

  27. Ianinja
    April 3, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    Nice comments and reports all around. Frankly, I say we’re going out and it dosen’t matter because Barca players are much better than us individually and collectively. I hope Wenger learn from this, I mean we could take a leaf out of ManU treble winning side. In the finals of 99′ against Bayern ManU was utterly outplayed but they were determined to see it out and won by a Sheringham header lol. It could happen at the Nou Camp…nah…

    Cheers

  28. Justin Bridges
    April 3, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    Take a look at this website it has some great Arsenal Signed Memorabilia

  29. Rohit Sharma
    April 3, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    A hell of a match! I almost got heartattack in first half. But oh boy what a comeback after being 2-0. But I wonder about Cesc’s injury.
    But I think we have proved that we were fitter than Barcelona and this thing can swing second leg in our favour.
    Let hope for the best.

  30. C-Bass
    April 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Time for Walcott to step it up. Time for him to take the next step and show he can be counted on not only as a consistent starter but as a the game changer his potential indicates.

  31. petre
    April 3, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    arsenal can kick barca out of 2nd leg….almunia please dont repeat the same errors…its a costly mistake…

  32. Hey Nonny Mouse
    April 3, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Arsenal V Wolves – with our team decimated we need some of the lesser lights to shine now. As the Americans say, we need them to bring their A game. I’m talking about the likes of Bendtner, Denilson, Diaby Theo – who have got to really put in a big shift and get the job done. There’s no excuses, boys. It’s on your shoulders. Do us proud.

  33. Rizzy
    April 3, 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    I was at this game, please comment and rate the video i made,i managed to catch imbrahimovic’s goal and fab’s penalty

    Enjoy and thanks!

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