Some top of the mind thoughts after this game are –
It was a heroic effort by the Arsenal players.
The ref completely took the life out of Arsenal in a moment of stupidity.
Barcelona certainly deserved to go through but they would have been seriously tested if the game had been 11v11 till the end. It was amusing to watch Guardiola getting anxious towards the end and waiting for full time.
I’m still tearing my hair out with some of the tactical mistakes, albeit predictable, by Le Boss and his players, the perfect example of which came when, with 90 seconds of stoppage time to go, Wilshere took a free-kick short. I don’t want to blame the youngster who put in a tremendous shift but it does highlight the limitation of Arsenal as a club under Wenger to think about the game in a different way. It was the perfect time to send everyone forward and have Almunia kick one into the mix but they just weren’t prepared for it mentally. I’m not even sure some of them realized what they needed based on the away goals rule.
I don’t want to be too harsh after all the effort that was put in but it was disappointing to see Rosicky on the right and Nasri on the left with Van Persie in the middle.
That meant Arsenal had no pace/threat along the right wing which was one of Barcelona’s weaknesses. It also meant there was a lot more pressure on Nasri as he had to defend against Alves and had to make lung bursting forward runs. Given how close this game was, in terms of qualification and not possession, it leaves me wondering what could have been if Arsene had put Nasri on the right and a more defensive minded player on the left.
While the first half was tight Arsenal didn’t have any, and I mean it literally, attacking opportunities. Apart from the blunder with Rosicky on the right, starting Van Persie added to the woes. That meant Arsenal had no outlet for playing the ball out. The Dutchman wasn’t working the channels and wasn’t able to win much in the air either.
Barcelona created a number of half-chances in the first half but failed to impress creatively despite a lot of possession. Most of their moves were going through Messi but Arsenal were doing a decent job of holding out.
An injury to Szczesny saw Almunia entering the fray early on. It didn’t affect the pattern of play too much.
The game had been a bit edgy with a couple of Arsenal players playing physically in terms of pushing the opponents a bit. Barcelona had Alves who was playacting and tackling rough.
Towards the end of the first half a tough but fair tackle on Wilshere left the youngster in pain. Iniesta probably thought Wilshere was a Barcelona player and was rolling around without any cause so he went to pick him up. This situation led to a coming together of players. I don’t know exactly what went on but we could see Abidal grabbing Van Persie by the throat.
If the ref really wanted to go by the rule book, the defender should have seen Red.
Moments later Van Persie was booked for a shove on Alves as the Brazilian displayed his acting skills once again when he went down clutching his face.
Five minutes were added on for the two injuries and Messi scored in the third of those with a sublime piece of skill to beat Almunia. The chance however, came from an astonishingly careless back-heel by Fabregas who gave the ball away on the edge of the box.
One goal wasn’t going to change much and Arsenal were always in it. Barcelona always give the opponents some chances to score if the other team can get to their penalty box.
Eight minutes into the second half Arsenal got the equalizer after Nasri won a corner with some good work down the left. The Frenchman’s delivery was headed into his own net by Busquets.
It could have been an exciting game after that but for the ref. Van Persie was flagged off-side as the ball was played over to him. The Dutchman controlled the ball and shot on the turn. He was given a second yellow card for playing on after the whistle i.e. time-wasting. Given the number of whistles being blown by the crowd and the fact that the time between the ref’s whistle and the shot was a mere 1 second, it really was a mind-boggling decision.
One could blame Van Persie for the first yellow and for not going down clutching his throat when Abidal grabbed him. Perhaps he will learn from Alves after watching this game again but for now none of it matters.
Arsenal seemed to lose all composure for the next fifteen minutes or so. Barcelona were able to move the ball far too easily and opened the Gunners up time and again. During this period the defence and midfield lost their shape far too often and ended up chasing balls instead of defending spaces.
Almunia kept Arsenal in the game with a number of saves in one-v-one situations proving again that he is among the best in the world at that.
The Spaniard couldn’t keep Xavi’s strike out after it took a deflection. Replays showed that the Keeper had the original shot covered but the deflection and subsequent bounce caught him off guard. The third came from the penalty spot after Koscielny fouled Pedro.
Barcelona created some more chances after that but Almunia was up to the challenge. Arsenal weren’t able to do much with ten men.
Arsene brought Arshavin and Bendtner on for Rosicky and Fabregas but it was too little too late. And with the Gunners not showing any inclination for using their aerial superiority or for making tactical adaptations, the game ended tamely.
I can’t say I’m surprised by the choices of Wenger but that doesn’t reduce the frustration or disappointment. In fact, it only worsens it. Nevertheless, the players deserve a great deal of credit for the effort they put in. In both games Arsenal performed better than they did last season showing clear signs of improvement.
Barcelona will need to do much, much better if they are to get past other tactically more astute sides in this tournament if they want to win it.
Szczesny: Wasn’t really tested during the time he was on the pitch. Got injured saving the only shot that came his way.
Almunia: Made a number of excellent saves. Was beaten by a sublime skill from Messi, a deflection, and a penalty.
Sagna: Struggled under pressure when in possession. Can’t fault him for effort as he maintained the narrow shape and chased as many balls as he could.
Djourou: Made a number of last-gasp tackles. Deserves credit for hard work and concentration.
Koscielny: Similar to Djourou in some ways. Was booked early in the game but did well despite the pressure. His tackle led to the penalty but the team was all over the place at that time.
Clichy: He was the one who played Messi on-side for the first goal but again it’s difficult to blame the defender in such a situation. Did well to deal with Alves and Pedro on most occasions but Barcelona got in behind on the left quite often. Can’t blame Clichy for it as Alves was playing really high up and not having a defensive player there put Clichy under pressure despite the best efforts of Nasri.
It would be easy to blame the back five for conceding three goals and many chances in the second half but I don’t think it’s fair. They won’t face this kind of a pressure again this season so it’s time to move on and focus on the other games.
Diaby: When in possession, wasn’t able to use the ball as well as one might have hoped. His leap did play a part in Busquets scoring an own goal. Did his part in chasing the ball.
Fabregas: Not a good idea to use him in a supposedly advanced role when the team was defending deep and he had no forward looking options. Should have been playing in front of the back four with a couple of players in attacking positions in front of him.
Wilshere: Another heart-warming effort from the youngster. Looked positive when he got the ball.
The midfield put in a solid shift in the first half. They lost their composure after Van Persie was sent off and they didn’t know whether to sit back or to attack. The better option might have been to stay compact at the back and sustain pressure for a while. The lack of an attacking outlet was always going to make life difficult.
Rosicky: Tried hard and was the chief grappler for Arsenal but just wasn’t up to the level of the game.
Van Persie: Needs to control his aggression and channel it in the right manner. Extremely unlucky to be sent off in such a manner.
Nasri: worked tirelessly on the flank but Wenger’s tactics were asking too much off him. Still managed to earn a corner and delivered it in the right area.
Can’t really call these players attackers in such a game. As mentioned earlier, I feel Arsene got key decisions wrong while picking the forward players.
Subs: Arshavin tried but couldn’t do much. Bendtner had one chance but it’s difficult to blame him for missing that as we saw plenty of Barcelona players miss one-v-ones.
While disappointing and undoubtedly frustrating, this game or the result should not be seen negatively. No one gave Arsenal a chance when the draw was made so the players should be credited for the effort put in despite playing an unnatural style against a better team with a real footballing genius in their ranks.