Lots To Learn From Barcelona

It’s difficult to ignore the emotional impact of our performance at the Emirates. Arsenal have a young team and I did expect us to suffer due to our inexperience but we also lacked courage, self-belief and organization for large parts of the game.

The second half showed that if we are prepared to ask the questions Barcelona won’t always have the answers. Still, their performance in the first half hour was nothing short of magnificent and came really close to perfect football. There is a lot this young squad can learn from the reigning champions.


The way Barcelona won the ball back was in itself an exhilarating aspect of their game. Each and every player was alert and aware of his position on the pitch and was reading the game really well. The visitors also knew exactly how to force the man on the ball into a corner or to rush him into a loose pass. Most importantly, when they closed an opponent down they didn’t just go and stand next to him. Each Barca player was willing to tackle. They won the ball so many times without the need for a dangerous foul or a slide. It’s an art almost every team in world football should learn.

In England, Arsenal are amongst the best teams at pressing and winning the ball back. But when we come across a team that is moving the ball quicker than the opponents we face on a weekly basis, we have to learn to adapt.

Pressing is an art that involves many players and one player chasing the ball or rushing at an opponent in possession does not work. I thought we were quite nervous in the beginning and just didn’t want to take the game to the visitors. Our players didn’t cover their zones well either. In the first half hour we were stretched all to easily and too many of our players didn’t read many obvious passes.


Possession football relies heavily on awareness, both offensive and defensive. Each player needs to know where he is on the pitch, where his team-mates are and where the opposition players are around him. At times, I felt, our players were caught unawares and we ended up conceding possession cheaply. The chief culprits in this regard where Diaby and Arshavin in the initial minutes.

Denilson, on the other hand, was our best player in terms of his reading of the game. Barcelona players played almost instinctively. Arsenal have played in the same manner in the past but only in patches.

I’m not sure why but there is something that holds us back. The “playing with handbrake” syndrome is still having a negative impact on our game. In some ways I feel the players’ minds are preoccupied with something and that affects their awareness. Maybe it is because we haven’t won something and have struggled in the big matches. This could be creating a negative mental pressure and if so Arsene must take steps to eliminate it.


Once you have the awareness and get your pressing right, it becomes easier to control the pace of the game. Unfortunately, we made it easier for them to control the tempo because we gave them all the room to play. This meant that Barcelona could slow things down when they wanted a breather and could raise the pace within seconds and at will.

Some people question the visitors’ stamina especially in the latter stages of the game. I must say, when I saw their intensity in the early part, I was wondering how long can they maintain this. To be fair to them it was long enough to establish a good lead.

I do feel Barca might be vulnerable late on because they use a lot of energy to keep the tempo high. That was also the reason why the fresh legs of Theo were such a worry for them.

If we can increase the tempo of our game in patches, we could surprise them at the Camp Nou.


I’d discussed our lack of organization while analysing the Birmingham goal in detail. It was quite evident even in this game and I can’t imagine it being any different for the rest of the season.

Against the lesser teams we get away with it because our attack is strong enough. In some ways it’s similar to how a weak Barca defence keeps clean sheets. When the ball is in the opposition half it doesn’t matter how chaotic your defence actually is!

Arsene must insist that the players stick to their zones and do justice to their defensive duties. In particular Fabregas was a major culprit in this area. This is not an attempt to criticize El Capitan but in his quest for winning the ball back he runs all over the pitch. At times he gets in the way of his team-mates and leaves holes in other areas. While I can appreciate his desire and hard work, we do need better discipline to counter strong attacks.

Width & Pace

The way Barcelona used their full backs was fascinating to watch. They didn’t spend a lot of time loitering in the attacking areas but moved forward with speed and purpose whenever an opportunity presented itself.

I feel our full backs don’t use their speed well enough. Perhaps I should say we don’t use the talents of our full backs to the full extent. On most occasions we take a long time in moving the ball from flank to flank thereby giving the opposition time to reorganize.

Part of this problem is due to the fact that when Fabregas plays other players just assume their job is limited to short passing. If Song, Diaby or Denilson take control of midfield and start spreading the ball faster we could really use the width much better and it would take some burden of Fabregas as well. Moreover, the opponents will have to worry about other players and just by double teaming Cesc they won’t be able to negate our creativity.

I’ve seen Song and Denilson do it but only rarely. At times when Nasri or Arshavin come into the centre they do help out but we need a lot more of this. Wide players have to make the runs when others are on the ball and every man on the ball should have the awareness of using the width.


The injuries from last night’s game could have a major impact on our end of season run-in. We might struggle to cope with Barca at Nou Camp. In spite of all the negatives, I’m hoping we won’t miss out on some big lessons that can really improve us as a team.

33 Responses to Lots To Learn From Barcelona

  1. mancityblue says:

    Enjoyed the game, well done for coming back into it, good luck for Nous camp.

    How much do you want for Walcott btw? lol

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks. Nice to bump into a civilized rival!

      In re Walcott, Tevez + De Jong will do just fine. We don’t need any money 😛

  2. Paul N says:

    The biggest thing we should learn is not to be intimidated, have faith and that we can play with the best and give them a hard time.

    If we wouldve started brighter and not so tentative, we most probably wouldve won the match.

  3. Hong_gunner says:

    Agreed, very much, on two fronts. About sharing the creative burden via Diaby and Denilson is very vital. We dont expect them to split defences times and again, but could spread the game more often along the flanks to give bit more time for the creative players to get into positions to keep the game flowing. At times, we complicate our game a bit too much/become more direct when the game doesnt demand the situation. Decision making is vital. And attacking with confidence is critical. Leave defending alone, we can and should attack with confidence, no matter who you play, thats our game. May be we were a bit more cautious about not conceeding early on wednesday, its human emotions. And emotions can take a turn when you know you have to win at camp nou. Regarding closing down, yes, it is a team art, and it comes with confidence and quick communication. I feel Nasri will play centrally at camp nou and for the season remainder. Our most consistent midfielder’s imagination and composure will decide our season.

  4. BillikenGooner says:

    I don’t know if it was due to all the pressing, to just plain nervousness, or what, but our touch seemed to fail nearly every player.
    It took way too long for our players to ‘get into the game’ and not have every header or attempt to control a pass or chest bounce bad or slide just a bit to far for the Barca player to snag and regain possession.
    We looked like a local school’s pickup team with how loose we were with the ball.
    (and even through our recent winning streak, if you rewatch the matches, our touch has been pretty poor early in every match)


    typial indian, rubbish.

    • critic says:

      hey u son of a bi**h, why don’t u just keep kissing messi testicles, and we will analyse arsenal here.

      desi just delete this comment,and block the user, it’s racist…

      • gooner.ind says:

        now u offended awww… deal with it p@$$y racism all over india itself u say ‘unity with diversity’.. bullocks… its evident all over the world – shiv sena, orissa incident… and u cry abt this stuff i think dat ‘u’ shuld start kissing messi’s testicles and grow balls of ur own…

        chris rock rightly quoted on racism,”There’s a lot of racism going on. Who’s more racist, black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people….”

  6. Ahmad says:

    dude…i thnk ur goin a bit negative here!
    even in ur last post…da nly fact i lykd wx dat u praised almunia!
    barcelona were world class in da frst half….i agree…but u hav to thnk da wenger was seein da same game!
    wat i lykd at da end was hw wenger gave da analysis ov da game! trust him…even wd gallas,arshavin n fabregas out…i realy feel dat professor wil kmplete his home work!!
    moreover,i hav to say dese thngs dat uve noticd are spot on, but da main factor ov barca concedin two l8 goals is probably da slow speed of la liga n dem usin high energy on mantainin high tempo!!

    i beleive “pressing” kant b learnt dis quickly…we’l just hav to stay calm n nawt get intimated by dem!
    keepin it quick n simple is da key!
    da only difference in da teams was da space we gave em to play! =(

    Barca are world class n playin da perfect futbawl!
    but we did wat chelsea or manure culdnt do! we SCORED “TWO” against em….n we wil again!
    sum1 has to stop em…n beleiv me…its THE ARSENAL!

    [keep up da gud work…i luv da way u luk at da games and analyse em =)]

  7. Ahmad says:

    dey took 57 mins to score two….v did it in 14 min!

  8. Aussie Jack says:

    Excellent assessment. Honest and fair crictism. Not only the players but I think Wenger should have learned quite a lot.Before the match I suggested that playing a team like Barcelona, irrespective of the result, will highlight our strengths and more importantly our weaknesses, it certainly did that.

  9. tope says:

    diaby needs to wake up to this call that can make him a superior guy in footballing world. in the hands of nasri,diaby,song and our weak denilson we commit the two trophy we can get this season. Gunners all tha way…

  10. Paul N says:

    Denilson was brilliant yesterday. I would play Him along with Song an Nasri in the mid or maybe switch song with Diaby Song.

  11. drvics (mumbai gunner) says:

    Spot on again Desi
    Completely agree on most of your points. Barca were exceptional in the first half. Your point on their use of flanks and how quickly and easily the managed to changed them was spot on. I have always felt that is one major area where Arsenal are found wanting, especially against teams who ‘park the bus’ in front of goal. The quick change of flanks leads to gaps appearing even in packed defenses.
    Also agree on the El Captain point.When we play with him, especially against bigger oppositions, we tend to over rely on him for pushing the ball from the middle to the opponents final 1/3rd. This creates a big problem if he is closely marked, which is invariably is and the speed of the transition from defense to attack also suffers. Lets see if the remaining EPL and CL games help our midfeild to gain more creative confidence.
    Lastly, seeing how the attack oriented Barca full backs (mainly Alves) were, wouldnt you be tempted to play a 4-4-2 or rather a 4-4-1-1 at Camp Nou. It will help defensively as the change of flanks from Barca will be less effective due to the midfield cover and with the likes of Walcott and Rosicky/ Eboue cutting in with pace from the flanks and running behind the full backs, we will do better attack wise. ofcourse, Samir/Rosicky/Eduardo are all capable of playing behind the lone striker. I think this will also help reducing the transition time from defense to attack and be a more direct approach to the 4-3-3. What do you think?

  12. gooner.ind says:

    any body can notice that brca is not a patient team… they do lot of things and too quickly in a short span of time and this makes dem vulnerable… game reading for barca can be read after 30mins of the game…. hence first 30 mins barca dominated… bt after that arsenal knw exactly wat dey were up 2…
    so BARCA should LEARN the most important rule frm ARSENAL thats patience….

  13. gooner.ind says:

    dis article’s analysis shuld improve…. not worthy of a read for any gooner fans full of damn excuses… bt for ppl who are pro barca and not even for neutral readers…. this is for whiner fans….

    • Ahmad says:

      no man…he’s spot on!
      admit da fact dat dey were better!

    • critic says:

      keep living in ur fantasy world, u don’t have to post here….

    • gooner.ind says:

      all u jus follow the anti-arsenal band wagoner i’m sure…. feeding up with wat all the British tabloids have to say, have a mind of ur own… wat u see is wat u believe not stories…

      well barca can well cover it up for the tactical faults coz’ dey have all brilliant players in each position.. agreed… its because the have all polished players…. bt arsenal hav lot of youngsters where not all players are polished bt hav a belief in themselves dat they can win it thats the difference…

      We Will go thru against Barca. Believe me. We will go thru. and u ppl will eat ur own words…

  14. Zerin says:

    The use of fullbacks :

    This was something that was good fun to watch. Majority of it was Alves. He has excellent acceleration, ball control and crossing abilities. However important thing was his starting position with respect to Arsenal players. He was getting the first ball so high up the pitch as the centre backs and midfielders of Barca are so comfortable in possession and Arsenal needed to press them that it always ensured that Alves could make a good run and get lot of space.

  15. critic says:

    desi i love ur posts becoz most of the time (everytime except that one gaffe) bcoz they are brutally honest,

    not overly optimistic not overly pessimistic just realistic……..very rare to find that quality nowdays.

  16. critic says:

    i want to know why wenger sold anelka at his peak in 1998…..could u do some research their?

    • desigunner says:

      I think it’s because Arsene never forces anyone to do anything. Once a player makes up his mind Wenger allows him to go instead of making him rot in reserves or something like that.

      Some players will always want to go for glamour and for money. I think the correct way of looking at it is to say that Arsene allowed Anelka to make his choices instead of saying he sold him. And if you ask Anelka now he is quite likely to say it was a mistake.

  17. Gtr gooner says:

    @critic: wenger sold anelka coz anelka wanted more money and so wanted to leave. Wenger knew he would create a bad element in dressing room so he sold anelka.

  18. Gtr gooner says:

    Guys we need to rest our all doubtful and tired players against wolves. Give starting berth to like Eduardo vela. Play song and vermaelen at back so that their understanding gets better coz Denilson can play as holding midfielder at barca. We need all 100% fit available players at barca to compete with tempo of game till end.

  19. Gtr gooner says:

    I have a gut feeling that what we did at san siro and bernabeu we’ll do the same at camp nou against all the odds.

    • desigunner says:

      I think we’ll need a little luck and another big game from Almunia. If we get past Barca then we could go all the way.

  20. Hong_gunner says:

    A few years back, we reached the finals with a makeshift defence, keeping a record 11 consecutive clean sheets. May be we could go one step further this time with a makeshift midfield. Fingers crossed. Good Friday!

  21. Nischit says:

    Great analysis desi. I have a feeling that walcott wont start the return leg however. His pace will be more useful as a sub, than a starter when his energy will be spent running behind the ball instead of running for the ball.

  22. […] not the only one who holds this opinion (some good points raised in this post), and I sincerely hope either Wenger is working hard behind the scenes or he prints out my three […]

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