Feb 172011

What a game. What a night. For an hour it was difficult to understand how any team in the world could live with Barcelona, but through sheer resilience and refusal to give in, we hung in and eventually wore them down, before scoring two brilliant goals to turn the tie around. In the first half Barcelona were at their mesmerising best, and despite not being able to fault a single Arsenal performance, we were playing the apprentice role predicted before the contest. But in the second, it was Barcelona who tired, contrary to popular belief that the side chasing the ball for longer periods would be the one to collapse in exhaustion.

Perhaps that isn’t surprising – almost all Barcelona’s games are over by the hour mark, so they’ve never had to maintain that intensity for ninety minutes. Their style requires extreme fitness, and they were unable to sustain it. It is a testament to our fitness that despite giving up more possession than in any other match in recent times, we finished the stronger.

As for the goals, they were something to behold. Valdes was certainly at fault for Van Persie’s equaliser, beaten at his near post from an impossible angle, but to focus solely on that does Van Persie a massive disservice – only extreme power and precision made that goal possible, and his recent form was required to give him the confidence to attempt such an audacious effort.

If that was good, the winner was astonishing. One minute Barcelona were outnumbering us on the edge of our own box, but three sublime passes later Nasri was racing down the wing, before cutting inside and laying the perfect ball inside to Arshavin, whose pass-finish from the edge of the area was Pire-esque. High praise indeed.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow match report – I imagine that every single one watched the match, soaking in every last detail. Instead, I want to focus on ten points that made the night so special.

1. The best team in the world came to town, and played at their scorching best. Despite all of that, they lost. Say what you like about their control of possession and their chances – they certainly could have scored more, particularly if Messi had not misplaced his shooting boots. But it takes more than luck to beat the best side in a generation when they are playing at that level. It takes something special just to avoid a hammering, let alone triumph. Whatever happens in the Nou Camp, this was the finest night the Emirates has seen.

2. It was also the loudest the Emirates has ever been – a remarkable atmosphere, contrary to the stereotypical Arsenal home game. Each of the players has acknowledged the extraordinary support they received – it was spine-tingling at times. When Arshavin completed that special move for the winner, the place erupted.

3. Every criticism laid at the door of this team was countered. Apparently we have no mental strength, no keeper, no centre halves and no leader. Nonsense. Fragile teams would have got hammered, Szczesny made crucial saves and never looked out of place despite it being the toughest of European debuts, Koscielny was simply remarkable at centre half and there were leaders all over the pitch. Everyone stood up to be counted. Alan Hansen, eat your heart out, you cliché-ridden monstrosity.

4. Jack Wilshere is the finest English talent in years, certainly from a technical standpoint – when was the last time you saw an English player so comfortable with the ball in tight spaces? Just as a quick reminder – he is 19 years old. A remarkable performance from a man rightly receiving plaudits in Spain today, he destroyed and created, never taking more touches than he needed to. A special talent, and as pointed out at Gunnerblog, he is Arsenal through and through.

5. Our fears about Eboue were misplaced. I’ve seen quite a bit of criticism of the Ivorian today, but I must have been watching a different game. He gave the ball away sloppily a couple of times, but that is to be expected of a player in and out of the side under this kind of pressure. Overall, I thought he handled himself very well, and Barcelona were unable to create much down his flank.

6. Robin Van Persie is one of the best strikers in the world, and would be recognised as such if he wasn’t forever injured. Last season he played twenty games, and was directly involved (scored or assisted) in eighteen goals. After last night’s equaliser, he has the same superb record this campaign. He is in stunning form, he has matured into a leader on and off the pitch, and crucially, he is fit. If that stays the case until May, we should lift something.

7. Szczesny could be Arsenal number one for the next twelve years. A year ago he was on loan at Brentford, six months ago he was clearly unhappy with his position at the club, watching Almunia and Fabianski given repeated chances and not even knowing whether he was ahead of Mannone in the pecking order. Now, he is surely first choice even when Fabianski returns, and despite a baptism of fire (Premiership debut against United, European debut against Barcelona), nothing fazes him. Popular amongst the players, it is easy to forget he is 20 years old. A baby in goalkeeping terms.

8. The age of these players is remarkable – 20, 25, 25, 24, 27, 23, 23, 19, 23, 21, 27. Read that again. Eboue and Van Persie, at 27, were the oldest members of a team that just stood toe to toe with the best side in the world and triumphed. Six of them are 23 or under. Not a single one of them has reached their peak yet. Let the thought of what could be make you smile.

9. Despite what Chris Waddle says, Theo Walcott has a football brain. Last night he caused Barcelona problems early on, but perhaps more importantly he gave fantastic support to Eboue on the flank, chasing and harrying time and time again in what was a very disciplined performance. Also, if he was mentally weak, you would expect him to go to pieces in the big games, but he is the complete opposite. His first goal for Arsenal was in the Carling Cup final, he went on that mazy run against Liverpool in the Champions League, turned the first leg of the Barcelona tie around last season, and was superb against Chelsea before Christmas. He is a big game player.

10. We’ve got Cesc Fabregas, complete with fist-pumping determination at the final whistle – he is ours, and he is proud to be ours.

I still haven’t come down from last night’s excitement. Anyone still wish we’d won our group?

  17 Responses to “Groan’s 10: Ten of the biggest positives from the Barcelona triumph”

  1. Walcott did not play well yesterday. The Arsenal team were very lucky (messi missing 1vs1, messi (offside goal) and arsharvin 90th min handball) but the tie is fair from over…

    • Messi certainly missed chances, but the Arshavin handball was the very definition of ball to hand. No penalty.

      Walcott did play well – he protected Eboue superbly, which is easily overlooked.

      • Both Arsenal handball’s were unintentional, neither misdirected the ball, and both times the ball fell directly to a Barcelona player giving him an excellent scoring opportunity.

    • silly little pillu!!!!!!!

    • dude, it was barcelona who was lucky – arsenal had 2-3 good scoring opportunities in the 1st 10 minutes. as for handballs, you neglect to mention pedro’s which should’ve been a yellow card.

    • What about RVP who had two clear chances a volley with his left and driving into the box from the left, the two positions I would love to have RVP in.

  2. Stirring, envigorating read. Thank you Groan, The talk has been about belief. There was belief in abundance at The Emirates during last nights era changing result. Momentum. The Mighty Arsenal need to move forward now. No more games where the first eleven or second eleven forget to turn up. No more home games where supporters groan and slag the team, Home fans ?take a cue from your away supporting Gooners. We sing when we are winning, sing when we are losing, and sing our bollocks off when we are playing shit. Well done on Wednesday though, loved it. Arsenal are back and on the march. OOOOOH TO BE A GOONER!

    • It was remarkable, and you’re right – it feels like a turning point. Coming of age is a painful cliche, but it does ring true today.

  3. 11. pique missing the return leg

  4. Great night but I am most amazed at Chesney. He’s got the skills and attitude to be not just our No. 1 for a long time, but a brilliant game changer. People seem to have overlooked his positioning when Messi missed his early chip. He was straight split out with no room to go low and that massive frame and arms spread out. The chip was Messi’s only shot and any farther in angle wise would have been blocked. Chesney is gifted but also huge and when he gets spread out he definitely disrupts and intimidates attackers – even Messi.

    You’re right about the Arshavin complaint – it was ball to hand clearly although there might be a case for a Djourou handball earlier. Anyway – nobody in the Arsenal camp is saying the tie is over. Personally, I think people are underestimating that fact that last year at Barca we didn’t have RVP, Cesc, or Arshavin, or Chesney. We played Silvestre for pete’s sake and rightly got drubbed. But we also scored first there and I don’t think the team is going to be intimidated as some Spanish pundits would have you believe.

  5. Of course Walcott played well! He hammered them in the opening stages, ran them and himself to death, tracked back to help Eboue, and made some terrific space for other players. He doesn’t have a good touch!? Was I watching a different game, cause what happened when Walcott was dancing around four Barca defenders before feeding the ball to Fab who lobbed it to Van Persie for the first volley that tested Valdes’ angles? Seriously, go back and look at that. Great touch.

    Arsenal was extremely lucky, eh? Maybe you’re right, but that’s part of the game. Not all the stuff gets called and we’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some crap decisions over the years. Remember Rooney’s little dive to end our streak? How about Kuyt’s shove to Hleb in the CL quarters? I could keep going, but the point is that we felt completely gutted when those clear decisions went the wrong way, but that’s life! If we retroactively counted all these mistakes, results would be wildly different across the board for every team, but we don’t and the game goes on. No doubt I’ll scream and stamp my feet when we get screwed next, but nothing will come of it, just like nothing will come of Messi’s offside goal and that argument.

  6. In the words of John Cheever, it was a night when kings in golden suits rode elephants over the mountains. Translation: The best team in the world took the pitch… and beat Barcelona. We are The Arsenal and we are the best, we are The Arsenal so… I think you know how that song goes.

  7. Walcott is clearly a threat. All this footballing brain talk is just bull. Ask Alan Hansen to run like a motor car and make decisions at that pace. Walcott has developed leaps and bounds when it comes to finishing. His touch while receiving long balls and his close control is great but still…. There maybe a time when his pace maybe countered by seasoned defenders.. at that time he has to be a lot more composed when it comes to passing and improve his decision making in the final third (I know it’s hard at his pace but all we ask is for very little improvemnt in that area ) so that “Wengerball” doesn’t break down… but this kid is King Henry in the making and will torment defenders for the next decade… and btw did any of you guys go back to work on thursday? I know I didn’t :D

  8. 12. Sagna back for the second leg. (No disrespect to His Awesomeness, President Eboue)

  9. Watch out for Walcott in the 2nd leg. One of two things will happen: 1) he’ll play a killer role, or 2) he pull defenders out of position so others can cause havoc (Sagna for example). Barca are genuinely scared of him, and that’s not based on hype but on history (two of the three goals last season).

    Don’t underestimate the importance of pulling defenders out of position – watch that second goal and see RVP’s run pulling the defender away to create space for Arshavin.

    • On the second goal, the space was there for Nasri to run into because barca relaxed defending that space since Theo left the field (maybe Barca wanting a second goal contributed as well) .

  10. And besides, some people forget that both Messi’s misses were a result of our keeper taking a little bit long to fall down or putting pressure on him. If you remember the goal he scored against Almunia last season, his chip worked because with theb first dummy, Almunia went down. Messi tried this again on Wednesday, but our keeper refused to be sold to the first dummy, by the time Messi tried his chip again, the angle was too tight.
    In the second half, our keeper together with the defense did very well to push Messi on the side, that’s why he missed, because there was no where to place the ball.
    Yes, Barcelona are favourites, but i want to see them go behind like they did last season and the Camp Nou. Then we can truly see whether they are great. Xavi and all the others fail to realise that they were very good on Wednesday, can they be much more than that? I doubt it. May be they plan to influence the ref by their gamesmanship.
    Winning is a habit, we have tested it and we’re likely to takes it again, in Spain come three weeks from now.

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