There were no surprises on the night then. Sadly for us gooners, Messi rose to the occasion and when the best player in the world is on top of his game there isn’t much the opposition can do.
We started the second leg far better than the first one pressing high up the pitch and forcing mistakes from the Barca players. The home team still had all the possession but their passing didn’t look as intricate or dangerous as it did in the first twenty minutes at the Emirates.
It seemed like Arsenal have some hope. The start turned into a brilliant one when Diaby wriggled through the attentions of four or five opponents and played Walcott in behind. The youngster looked tentative and his pass wasn’t the best but Bendtner made the most of it and was quicker to react to the rebound. One nil to the Arsenal! Wonder how many expected that?
Barca roared back like a wounded animal while Arsenal made the mistake of pushing too many men forward in excitement. The correct tactical approach would have been to soak some pressure and continue the way we’d started.
Instead Messi found a lot of space in front of our box and equalized with a sublime finish. The gap between the diving Vermaelen and sliding Silvestre wasn’t big but the wizard smashed it past them and Almunia with nonchalance. While I don’t deny the quality of Messi’s finish there are questions about what Silvestre was doing when he played it back to the young Argentine. This is the kind of panic defending that has put us in trouble consistently. At that point I’d expect the central defender to either stop the ball dead as he didn’t have anyone within two yards of him or he should have hacked it clear. The half-cock effort didn’t help our cause.
Another player at fault was Denilson who was goal side of Messi when he took his first shot. Then he turned around to watch the ball instead of tracking the lethal striker. If he’d been with Messi he could have blocked the shot. I don’t want to blame the individuals as we’ve seen such mistakes from pretty much each Arsenal player.
The second goal was even worse. When the cross came in Vermaelen was in a position to knock it out for a throw or a corner. Inexplicably, he played it back in play. If you watch closely he actually wraps his foot around the ball and tries a really difficult reverse clearance. when he could easily have kicked it away. As I’ve said often in the past, it seems to me that our players are really scared of conceding corners and end up trying suicidal clearances. Once again there was a question why a midfielder wasn’t tracking Messi.
After the second goal the tie was balanced and we should have just played the way we started. In a somewhat immature manner our players pushed high up in search of the equalizer and when you give Messi that kind of room to run with the ball he will finish you off every single time. Once again Vermaelen went for a header that even if he’d won wouldn’t have given us any advantage. As the Belgian lost his balance the route was clear for Messi. There was no way Silvestre or any of the full backs was catching up with him.
After the third goal Barca played the ball around as our players tried hard but just couldn’t sustain possession. The final goal was just icing on a sumptuous Catalan cake.
You have to give credit to Barcelona for the tactical awareness that they needed to focus on defending. If they’d continued pushing men forward after the third goal Arsenal might have scored on the counter. That was the only way we were going to score against this well organized Catalan side. Arsenal did have some half chances but we didn’t have Messi to convert them.
I don’t want to take any credit from Barcelona but Arsenal could have done better in this game if we had better tactics. Walcott was wasted on the wing as his options were limited, Nasri had no influence through the middle as it was always crowded and we hardly got the ball to Bendtner in the box. Arsene will have to really reconsider his options for the big games.
I know we had too many first team players out injured and Messi does make Barcelona the best side in Europe but that doesn’t mean we don’t analyse how things could have been different.
In the first leg we were tight on Messi and that gave the other players a lot of room to manoeuvre and in the second leg we made it difficult for the others but Messi tore us apart as he found a great deal of space.
I don’t want to dwell on this too much right now as I’ve often discussed the weaknesses of this formation against the big teams and our collective defensive weaknesses. The best time to get into these details once again will be in the summer. Right now we just have to focus on the next game and hopefully we’ll have better news on the injury front.
At the end of the day, I’m happy we went out to a proper football team and not to anti-football. I’ll support Barcelona in their quest for a retaining their title. Here’s hoping they can get past the Dark Lord in the next round and we can win our remaining games in the league.
Almunia: Didn’t do much wrong yet conceded four!
Sagna: Efficient and hard working. Wonder what would have happened if he’d started at centre back.
Vermaelen: Very bad mistake for the second goal. Worked hard and cannot fault him for effort.
Silvestre: Not bad for a sixth choice centre back! Should have cleared the ball that led to the first goal, although to be fair, it came to him with a deflection from Vermaelen and he didn’t have a lot of time to react to it.
Clichy: Top Class. His form has been the biggest positive of the two games.
Denilson: Worked hard but didn’t have any impact when in possession.
Diaby: Much better than his performance in the first leg. His passing and awareness in the final third need a lot of improvement. Once again can’t fault him for effort.
Nasri: Another one who didn’t have any impact when in possession. Hardly got any time on the ball. Not sure if it was a good idea to play him through the middle. Any team that can stop Fabregas can certainly stop Nasri.
Walcott: His pace was always a threat when Barca were pushing forward. We just didn’t use him well enough in that period. Once they retreated he became ineffective. Should have made some runs through the middle.
Bendtner: Great tenacity for the goal. Missed a glorious chance to bring it back to 3-2. Big learning curve for him.
Rosicky: Our worst player on the night. Not sure if he was fully fit or not. His touch wasn’t very good and his passing was poor by his standards.