Barca 3, Arsenal 1 (4-3 agg.), aka “It wasn’t supposed to be like this”

This was the kind of match that it was for a while, a match that is a little bittersweet for this reviewer, because it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I am giddy with rapture that we dispatched a gutty, gritty Arsenal side, who got in our face for that entire first half, before the match got a bit (okay, a lot) chippy.

But the Van Persie call was wrong, stupid and completely changed the match. It wasn’t how I wanted to win, because now we dispatch another English opponent, and the cries of “Ovrebo again!” will ring from the heavens, rightly or wrongly.

For those who have never been to the Camp Nou, let me tell you: With 95,000+ fans in full cry, you couldn’t hear a bomb go off in that place, much less a whistle. So when Van Persie was ajudged to have transgressed the (very literally intepreted) rules and sent off with a second yellow, it wasn’t how I wanted it to end.

Make no mistake, we were the better side. By light years. Zero shots on goal? Is that playing to win? No. Mind you, we had a little something to do with that.

Usually before he is about to have a big match, Messi has the “Godfather” stare. This match, every player on the side had it, and you just knew that it was going to be one of those matches of the kind where we display our absolute best, and we did. Part of why Arsenal didn’t have any shots on goal is because we didn’t let them have the ball with a moment’s peace. If someone can recall a match in which our pressure was as relentless, I await the information, because I just can’t recall us ever pressing like we did, for as long as we did.

Yes, we did for some of the match at the Emirates, but not enough of it, and not as intensely. For this match, the lineup of Valdes, Alves, Busquets, Abidal, Adriano, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro!!, Villa pressed like crazy men for every moment of the match, refusing to allow Arsenal any time on the ball. Every time they got the ball, pressure forced it loose, and we were coming back at them, with Attack of the Waterbugs, aka Midget Wars!

And the chances were coming, because Arsenal, frankly, were playing like a bottom-table Liga side who came in the Camp Nou and decided to play for a draw from the moment they stepped off the bus. Yes, if they could hold us scoreless, they would advance. You can see the logic in that approach, but Arsene Wenger’s charges deserved better. If you are going to go out of Europe, don’t go out with no shots on goal, your only goal being a lucky own goal off a deflected Busquets header. We had 47 touches in the Arsenal box. They had 2 in ours. In the Camp Nou, 10 men behind the ball will only get you beaten, as it should. Play football, or go home, because the Footy Gods don’t like when excellent footballing sides play not to concede.

What that means is that you are saying that you are facing a much better side, and are just going to turn turtle, and kick every ball away that you can. And for a while it worked, as Arsenal took a relentlessly physical and aggressive approach, relying on team speed and positioning to keep us away. Even still, there were signs. A sloppy Villa first touch led to one goal spurned. Pedro!! had another chance that went a-begging, as he was in full tasmanian devil mode, terrorizing Arsenal’s back line with his constant motion.

You knew what kind of a match it was going to be for Arsenal, when Alves spanked a bullet of a free kick that their keeper caught wrong, and did some damage to his hand. The shot looked hard, but harmless enough. Nonetheless, it was time for Almunia to come on, a substitution that also took away one of their three potentially match-changing subs. And still, we came running at them, like pit bulls unleashed until finally, a neat series of close touches found Messi scurrying in the box, only to run afoul of Diaby. The referee didn’t blow for the penalty, or any foul at all, and I will say it here: He blew the call.

Again, as with the Chelsea match and the penalties that could have been awarded to us in that one, Arsenal fans will choose to forget about this one. But it was a stone-cold penalty. And still, we played on, assaulting their box like a team playing for its European life, which is what we were. Usually, we’re the team who is playing a determined, froth-mouthed opponent, but not today. Today, we were the rabid dogs, and Arsenal the brilliant defenders who always seemed to get a leg or a foot in just the right spot. Villa broke loose for a one-on-one, but the defender got just enough pressure to force a weak shot. Chance after chance, and nothing concrete came of it, in a match that needed a goal to heat it up.

“This is a vital time for Arsenal,” said the Fox Soccer announcer as the first half headed into injury time, and so it was. If they could just get to the half without conceding, catch their breath and make it into the locker room at 0-0, there would be a chance. They even broke loose with a long ball for Van Persie, but it was Abidal he was against, not Pique. So rather than being able to outrun the attacker, Abidal was there in plenty of time to make the play, even though Van Persie was awarded an unfathomable corner kick.

And then, the “vital time” became crazy time, as a moment of individual brilliance so absolutely stunning as to beggar description, happened. Of course, it took a moment of incalculable stupidity to facilitate this, but that is so often the case. Cesc Fabregas tried a backheel pass on the lip of his own box, against a club that was pressing like crazy, even more so at the end of the half. It was intercepted as it should have been, and Iniesta played an exquisite ball that split two Arsenal defenders, who looked at each other the way noncommunicative doubles partners watch a ball slide between them for a winner.

Then Messi took over, as he controlled the pass, noticed a sliding Almunia charging at him, and chipped the ball up to himself so that the keeper slid under his self-pass, then Messi volleyed it home. Sitting on the sofa, I just smacked my forehead in astonishment. Goals such as that one are just stupid.

So many things have to happen for that goal to come, but more importantly, you need to have the best player on the planet playing for you, a player who thinks that everything is possible and nothing is absurd, even a pass to yourself in front of the opponent’s goal. Why not? It works in practice, what makes a match, even a Champions League elimination match, any different? Good question, and this goal was the answer. The question also summed up the match.

Our system works when everyone makes the right decision with the ball. When an attack starts from the keeper and inches its way up the pitch, any single wrong decision with the ball can result in an attack derailed or worse, a jailbreak counter of the type that killed us at the Emirates. But not today. Today, it was our ball and our pitch. We couldn’t take it and go home, because we were home. So we just took it, forcing Arsenal to resort to long clearances and passes, in an effort to get players behind our pushed-up back line, a back line that was very different, in that there was pace at every position. So we just intercepted, fed to Xavi and resumed the attack.

Arsenal played hard, physical and fair, forcing the best from us, thinking that surely, we can’t be that brilliant for an entire match. We were. From top to bottom, everyone made the right decisions with the ball almost every time. And if we do that, we are going to win. Period.

More importantly, that goal should have been the goal that opened up the match, that forced Arsenal to come out and play football. That was when you got some sense of how well we were playing, how hard we were working and how much we were pressing. Arsenal had to score, and we still didn’t let them have the ball, until Nasri bulled his way up the wing, earning a corner kick. In it went, and with no Arsenal players around it really, you expected a routine clearance. So when Busquets’ deflected header suddenly nestled into the back of our net, the Camp Nou was indescribably quiet. It was 1-1, and if the match stayed the same, Arsenal were through on the away goals rule.

And then, The Call. Van Persie was sent off on the attack off a long ball, but he was clearly offsides. It wasn’t even close. He took the pass, and fired a shot that went wide of the goal, whereupon referee Massimo Busacca pulled a second yellow, and Van Persie was gone. Yes, it was a stupid call. But we should never forget that if he had kept his head in the first half instead of deciding to, in a fit of Pique, show Alves what for, that would have been his first yellow. Game still on.

Yes, the call was terrible. So was the blown Messi penalty. Even steven? Players make their own luck, by remaining calm when all around them is going nuts. Van Persie didn’t, and that was that. So Arsenal fans can scream about the injustice of it all as much as they like, but if Busacca is as sharp as they would have liked, the match would have been 2-1 at that point, rather than 1-1. Were I an Arsenal fan, I would be directing my outrage at a coach who decided to keep us from scoring, rather than doing what we do, which is to play defense by attacking and keeping the ball, scoring goals so that you can’t score any. It worked, and we move on.

But back to the match, one in which a red card gave a Camp Nou opponent defending a lead in the tie, carte blanche to defend like crazy. But Arsenal isn’t Inter, and we are a much better side this season, as evinced by our second goal, one even more amazing than the Messi goal because it was a team effort that culminated in Iniesta sliding past Rosicky, our secret weapon in the Arsenal side, popping a pass to Villa who one-timed it perfectly for Xavi, who knocked it home for the 2-1 lead.

At this point, the possibility of extra time was strong if you were an Arsenal fan, but not if you were a Barca fan, as more goals seemed as inevitable as the sunrise, as we used the full width of the pitch to attack, attack, attack, attack. And suddenly, we were in their box again, where Xavi fed yet another flawless ball to Pedro!!, who was tripped up. Penalty. Messi smacked home for the 3-1 lead. It was a goal made of hard work, as Pedro!! never stopped running. He’s probably running right now, arms flailing, up and down La Rambla, making pickpockets drop wallets and forcing those EUR2 per can of warm beer vendors to give up their Damm cans.

Arsenal had no answer for an on-form Pedro!!, who when he is on form, works harder than any player on the pitch and is constantly looking for the ball. If he isn’t tripped up, he runs onto the ball and blasts it past Almunia, so why not take the chance on the penalty?

At 3-1 it should have been game over, but Adriano gifted a loose, soft, sloppy pass to Arsenal, who sent Bendtner off to the races. We can thank our stars for his sloppy first touch and an amazing intervention from Mascherano, who toe poked the ball to Valdes, who cradled it, and that was that. We advanced in the kind of at time heart-stoppingly beautiful match that only we can play. We were playing monkey in the middle, and the Arsenal defenders were the monkeys, in a passing display that was stunning. Our display will be sullied by the howls of outrage, but so be it. Fact of the matter is that the better side won. If you don’t shoot at the other team’s goal, you can’t win. Simple as that.

So what were the differences in this match, and the one at the Emirates? Iniesta and Pedro!! played much better, Mascherano, and the decision to start Adriano. The difference that he made can’t be stressed enough. And ah, the aka part of the title: We were the best club. A poor decision gives people reason to doubt that, which is wrong as can be.

Team: 10. This was, for me, a performance even better than the Clasic’s manita, because there was more on the line, against a higher-quality opponent. The pressing and energy were insane, and everybody helped everyone else. I have never seen Villa play as much defense as he did today, in just one example.

Guardiola: 10. He continues to make the right calls. Adriano and Mascherano proved him right, and the Afellay substitution was perfect. The side was ready to play, with none of that easing into the match nonsense.

Valdes: incomplete. I know, I know. But he didn’t have anything to do today. One of the rare chances that he had to touch the ball came when he was picking it out of his own net after Busquets screwed the pooch. Crazy I know, but there it is.

Alves: 10. Nothing like a refreshed, rejuvenated Alves, is there? He was everywhere on offense and defense, stealing, attacking, passing, even goading Van Persie into his stupid, stupid yellow card. He owned whoever Arsenal put against him, and even threw in an early hard foul, to say “If you want to play physical, that’s cool. We can do that as well.”

Busquets: 8. Played an extraordinary match, until that unconscionable error, a Bad Busi! moment from hell. Never stretch for a header in your own box, because you never know what can happen. Full-on monster other than that, in moving up to contribute to the attack then somehow getting back to ensure that nothing Arsenal tried could come to fruition.

Abidal: 9. Again, our French Greyhound proved his mettle at center back, with interceptions, outrunning Arsenal players to everything that came near him, bring the ball up on the attack to destabilize their defense and going out for coffee.

Adriano: 8. I find it rather difficult to imagine how Maxwell must have felt watching this display. He was a left-sided Alves, something we haven’t had in some time, charging up the pitch on slashing runs into their box, intercepting balls in our end and stealing passes in midfield. Except for a couple of positional errors and that silly, silly pass that could have changed everything, an utterly convincing match.

Mascherano: 9. Except for a few wayward passes, a perfect match, and that last intervention was the icing on the cake. He saved that tie for us with that play that showed his pace, determination and sheer effort. His passes were short and sharp, and he took everything that came near him in the midfield (yet again), underscoring that he should have been in the side at the Emirates. He allowed Alves and Adriano to go hog wild, because he had the middle on lockdown.

Xavi: 9. Command and control, and what a beautifully taken goal. Soft on some passes, and missed some runners, moments that elicited groans from the Camp Nou crowd. But our possession game thrives when he is as sharp as he was today, as the orchestrator of our massive game of Monkey in the Middle.

Iniesta: 9. Someone noted before the match that he and Pedro!! would be our two most influential players, that if they both played well, we were going to win. Ghostface was a killer, with passing, movement and aggression on both sides of the ball. A lovely, lovely dance partner for Xavi.

Messi: 10. What is there to say about our Man of the Match? He has scored more goals, and had more spectacular games, but he has rarely been more influential. He battled for everything. Not some of the things. Everything. He fought for balls, worked them loose, made runs, made passes and drove Arsenal’s defense crazy with his aggression. And man, what is there to say about that goal.

Pedro!!: 8. He earned his second exclamation point back, with an all-pitch display that had him in my thoughts as MOTM. Defense, offense, passing, runs, more defense, possession, he did everything including earning a penalty to put the tie to bed. A remarkable, indefatigable display from a player who is rounding back into form at the right time.

Villa: 7. Errant passes, poor touches and indecision were made up for with that perfect one-time pass for Xavi, a series of other brilliant runs, all-pitch effort and putting out for the colors in a way that made him part of this team’s heart and soul. Usually, you find him playing kind of detatched, even when playing well. Not today. Who was that dude bodying up on an Arsenal attacker? David Villa. Then making passes and runs at the other end.

Substitutes

Afellay (for Villa): incomplete. Not enough time for a real rating, but again, Guardiola showed that he learns from his errors. Afellay was an immediate danger, running onto a killer ball from Adriano to threaten, and then making run after run as well as facilitation our possession game.

Keita (for Mascherano): incomplete. The announcers called it a time-wasting sub, but Mascherano was hobbling after having given his absolute all in stopping that Bendtner attack.

And now, the next round. When Abidal was asked who he’d like to face, he said “Lyon.” Yes, this would not only mean an easy way to the next round for us, but that EE would have been knocked out of the tournament. Who knows? But right now, we get to bask in the glow of a job well done. And hats off to the folks who predicted the 3-1 scoreline.

As for Fabregas, I felt a little sorry for him as the Camp Nou denizens whistled him off the field. He didn’t play in last year’s Arsenal elimination, and he didn’t really play in this one, either. I won’t re-start the row about whether he should come or not. But I think that the display that we put on almost certainly had him thinking.


“It’s your world, dude. I’m just paying rent.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

253 Comments

  1. Diego
    March 9, 2011

    “We played awesome” was Pep Guardiola’s post-match assessment.

    That statement is EPIC 😀

  2. Jackieboy
    March 9, 2011

    Afellay was weak IMHO. Lacked the speed to overtake Djorou (or was it Sagna), and it was just after getting subbed on. And he looked soooo lacking the confidence whenever he got the ball, almost as if he was terrified.

    • Eklavya
      March 9, 2011

      What? Did we watch the same match?

    • Jnice
      March 9, 2011

      He beat DJourou, but he was never going to fly right past him like a cartoon. He also beat Sagna at the end with a stepover, but decided to take it back and keep possession. Rightly so.

      Lacking confidence? No, he just wanted to keep the ball moving.

      As soon as he came on, he had two chances two score, which shows he got into good positions.

  3. blitzen
    March 9, 2011

    Fantastic review, Kxevin! Makes me want to rush home and watch the game again, which is what I will be doing tonight. This bit about Pedro made me choke on my tea:

    He’s probably running right now, arms flailing, up and down La Rambla, making pickpockets drop wallets and forcing those EUR2 per can of warm beer vendors to give up their Damm cans. 😀

    Here are some Blitzen Awards:

    WTF Award: Adriano & Mascherano run for the same ball and knock each other over. LOL.

    Awww, Bless Award: Dani reaches down to comfort a stricken Busi after the own goal. Get up, boy, we have work to do!

    Hold On There! Award: Abidal grabs RVP by the throat. He must have said something really nasty, because Abi just doesn’t DO that!

    My Heart Exploded Award: Iniesta literally launches himself onto Messi after the first goal. Andres should always be that happy, it makes the world better.

    I Got This Award: Messi with THAT look in his eyes from start to finish. Unstoppable. Runner-up: Mascherano. Thou shalt not pass!

    Zees Is Fashun Award: Those enormous and hideous Arsenal coats. I’m Canadian and even I wouldn’t wear that!

    I Have a Headache Award: Pep, because between Mascherano and Adriano’s performances, he will now have an even more difficult time deciding who to play since everyone is now equally brilliant and deserving. The kind of headache most coaches would kill to have.

    • Jnice
      March 9, 2011

      My Heart Exploded Award: Iniesta literally launches himself onto Messi after the first goal. Andres should always be that happy, it makes the world better

      I think that was the fierest, most physical hug I’ve seen between those two. Immense joy.

      I also loved when Pep celebrated the goal and urged the fans to get on their feet.

      • Eklavya
        March 9, 2011

        WTF Award: Adriano & Mascherano run for the same ball and knock each other over. LOL.

        Haha, I remember that now! 😀

        My Heart Exploded Award: Iniesta literally launches himself onto Messi after the first goal. Andres should always be that happy, it makes the world better.

        I was so freakin’ pumped up when I saw that + Pep’s reaction, it was like “WE CAN FREAKING DO THIS NOW AAAAAA”.

      • soccermomof4
        March 9, 2011

        Really because when I saw Pep’s rxn I had two rxns:
        1. Oh look how happy he is!
        2. Don’t get too exited and hurt your back!

      • Eklavya
        March 9, 2011

        Hahaha Id forgotten he had a back problem.

  4. mardia
    March 9, 2011

    It’s a strange feeling when I agree with Marca and AS…

    From here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/mar/09/champions-league-press-reaction-barcelona-arsenal

    AS: when Messi scored for 1-0 that should have been the end of the discussion, since such a work of art deserved to secure qualification. But football is a cruel sport and it wasn’t enough that in the first leg the referee had denied Barça a penalty, had ruled out a good goal by Messi and that in the return, would ignore another penalty on Messi. In the face of such misfortune, the ball handed down the verdict. And the ball, as we know, belongs to Barça.

    Is this the same publication that photoshopped a picture to make Alves look offside? LOL.

    But my feelings on Arsenal can be summed up by our manager–

    Pep: “They didn’t string three passes together. If they believe they lost because of [Robin] Van Persie’s sending-off they won’t go very far and will always remain on the outside looking in.”

    For me, THIS is the attitude that needs to change within Arsenal. They have an incredibly talented side, and they could absolutely go far in any competition. But a lot of the time, you have to rise above questionable calls by the referee and just play the best game you can. Losing and then whining about bad calls, without acknowledging that you had a part in the result–not only does it make you look bad, I also believe it’s unproductive and doesn’t foster a winning attitude.

    Like, Kxevin, I wish we didn’t have to talk about the referee at all, I really don’t. But in my opinion, the referee didn’t take Arsenal out of the game–they weren’t IN it to begin with.

    As for Messi–I can’t even. That goal was ridiculous, flat out. Simply ridiculous. I’ve watched it repeatedly and I still can’t figure out how he pulled it off. And the Xavi goal was perfection. I flap my hands every time I look at it.

    But credit to Arsenal–they’ve made me more nervous than any other team that Barcelona’s played this year, up to and including EE, I have to say. So glad we don’t have to face them again this season.

  5. Jnice
    March 9, 2011

    Anyone want the pre/post match analysis on Sky featuring Graeme Souness, Jamie Redknapp, and Rafa Benitez?

    • gowtham
      March 9, 2011

      Hey I would love to have the post match:D

      • Extreme barca fan
        March 9, 2011

        Yes please

      • Jnice
        March 9, 2011

        K, I’m gonna post the whole match too because Sheena asked for links.

        Sky Sports Broadcast

        Pre Match:

        /http://hotfile.com/dl/109348569/16e2b34/Pre_Match_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://bitshare.com/files/72e17pid/Pre-Match—UCL—Barcelona-v.-Arsenal—08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://www.filesonic.com/file/179197492/Pre_Match_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi

        First Half:

        /http://www.fileserve.com/file/VjfX7GU/First Half – UCL – Barcelona v. Arsenal – 08-03-11.avi

        /http://bitshare.com/files/kl79sdih/First-Half—UCL—Barcelona-v.-Arsenal—08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://www.filesonic.com/file/179572602/First_Half_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi

        Second Half:

        /http://www.fileserve.com/file/TWYAhNX/Second Half – UCL – Barcelona v. Arsenal – 08-03-11.avi

        /http://bitshare.com/files/k5ct54lb/Second-Half—UCL—Barcelona-v.-Arsenal—08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://www.filesonic.com/file/180062631/Second_Half_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi

        Post Match:

        /http://hotfile.com/dl/109370458/73c26b8/Post_Match_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://www.fileserve.com/file/592BXPP/Post%20Match%20-%20UCL%20-%20Barcelona%20v.%20Arsenal%20-%2008-03-11.avi

        /http://bitshare.com/files/z8mdit0r/Post-Match—UCL—Barcelona-v.-Arsenal—08-03-11.avi.html

        /http://www.filesonic.com/file/180124642/Post_Match_-_UCL_-_Barcelona_v._Arsenal_-_08-03-11.avi

        Credit to Pakman at fbtz.com

      • Jnice
        March 9, 2011

        Those without premium links:

        You should be able to download every file with a different host in order to avoid waiting.

      • Extreme barca fan
        March 9, 2011

        Jnice: You are the man THANK YOU

      • Jnice
        March 9, 2011

        No problem, buddy.

  6. vicsoc
    March 9, 2011

    Whether or not you think RVP deserved to be sent off, the fact is that he had put himself on the ref’s bad side several times throughout the match. It is an eternal rule in football that if you piss the ref off you are going to pay for it. Van Persie did just that.

    • Ian
      March 10, 2011

      This. What Gooners fail to see — or rather, what they choose NOT to see.

  7. March 9, 2011

    Part of the reaction by Wenger and the Arsenal player seems to me to be in reaction to the never ending litany of criticism they seem to incur from the British football world and media.

    It’s been going on for years and much of it seemed to have started with Arsenal using “foreign” players.

    Many there seem to see Wenger and Arsenal as arrogant – as seeing themselves as being superior to truly “English” teams and the English football culture as a whole.

    Whenever they lose it turns into a meta-conversation about “style” and culture and what “real football” means.

    It seems to have worn on Wenger and their team and made them thin skinned.

    It’s very unfortunate and ironic that so many of the negative statements directed at Barca from the Arsenal side and supporters mirror the exact criticisms that Arsenal receive in the UK.

    Just take the penalty issue Wenger keeps bringing up. When Arsenal is drawing more penalties than the opposition it’s not because the referee it’s just because Arsenal control possession so of course the team with the ball will draw more fouls.

    But last night when Barca played Arsenal off the pitch and didn’t even let them near the ball – the penalites Barca drew are just bias from the referees, favoritism from UEFA, just a result of the effete Barca players diving and play acting, etc.

    Same exact criticisms directed at Arsenal all of the time.

    It’s very unfortunate.

    • Extreme barca fan
      March 9, 2011

      So true

    • Lev
      March 9, 2011

      unfortunate is one way to put it. Hypocrite would be another 😉

  8. ak
    March 9, 2011

    kevin, there was no way that he didn’t hear the whistle
    i can’t believe you of all people are buying that bs
    yeah it was not a yellow, but that was a pretty lousy excuse
    rofl at that last image caption

    and i dunno why gunners over at arsenal offside are so pissed off at cules for whistling at their players. that’s what fans do, right?
    or maybe arsenal are just used to bieng the good guys

  9. blitzen
    March 9, 2011

    Well, at least one Arsenal player will be smiling today. Two months ago people were saying Almunia would be out the door by the end of January. Looks like he still has a job!

  10. Mike
    March 9, 2011

    Good write-up Kxevin, I agree with pretty much everything. I guess before I say anything else, I’ll let you know I’m an Arsenal fan. I haven’t read the comments because there are so many so forgive me if say something that has already been mentioned.

    First off, congratulations to Barcelona. They are the best team in the world, they were the best team in the world before this match, and they have been for quite some time. I love everything about the way your team plays, it is incredible. I won’t say I particularly love all of your players (ehem… Busquets, Alves), but as a whole, I truly respect what they are all about.

    For me, Barcelona certainly deserved to win this game. Just before the first was scored, I was telling my buddy how I couldn’t believe it was still 0-0. Then Fabregas, wanting to be fancy, decides to make a horrific mistake. I mean, that’s schoolboy stuff. Either way, I guess I couldn’t be too upset because we had avoided that clear penalty on Messi earlier in the half. Even with the goal and that insane pressure Barcelona was putting on us, I still had a glimmer of hope.

    The own goal really brought us back into the game and from there I could see us winning the tie, even though Barca had been and probably still would be the better team. Then that red card. Of course, I’m biased because I am an Arsenal fan, but I do think this tremendously altered the game. We would have been able to have an outlet to attack a slowly tiring Barcelona team which might have led to a goal or soaked up some of the pressure that eventually led to the two goals.

    Now, for those saying Arsenal went out there to simply defend–well, they did, but not completely. Fitness was key in the first leg. Barca got tired, we didn’t so much. We scored two and managed to hang on. In the second leg, I believe Arsene was looking to do the same, survive an onslaught and take only clear-cut counters in the first half, then see how much space there was in the second and adjust from there, slowly taking advantage of a tired Barcelona team. It wasn’t a bad plan, although I think putting a little more into the attack in the first might have changed the game a bit. It seems this is why Rosicky started and Arshavin was left on the bench.

    All in all, I can’t be angry that Barcelona advanced. As I said earlier, best team in the world. I am disappointed though that again I am left with “what ifs.” Still, I’m a bit satisfied knowing that my club is not as far from the top as many believed we were.

    Sorry for the wall of text, and.. Congrats!

    • soccermomof4
      March 9, 2011

      Thanks, welcome, and don’t worry about the wall of text; we’re used to it.

      Now go win the FA cup and the league because if Chelsea or Man U win it, I’ll never hear the end of it in my house..again!

      • Lev
        March 9, 2011

        thnx mike. pure class, just like the other gunners who have left comments on here the last couple of weeks.

    • blitzen
      March 9, 2011

      Thanks, Mike! And welcome.

      I really hope Arsenal win the EPL!

    • mardia
      March 9, 2011

      Mike, thanks for the classy comment. I think Arsenal’s game plan was two-fold–try to come back on the counterattack, and try to wear out Barcelona the way they had in the first leg. I think, though, that they had several problems, one being that Fabregas and van Persie (two very important players) were obviously struggling with fitness and the other being I don’t think they were prepared for the sheer pressure that Barcelona put on them.

      How smart that plan was is up for debate–I can’t believe that Arsenal didn’t realize that trying to beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou wouldn’t be a harder job, also (despite the fact that they had a solid defense for a lot of the game, particularly the first half) Arsenal’s entire play is based on attack, attack, attack. That’s what the players are best at. Asking all of them to primarily defend, and against Barcelona…I don’t know.

  11. Diego
    March 9, 2011

    I finally knew why Alves doesn’t shoot.

    His shot is so awesome that it injures goalkeepers and he probably feels really bad about it, that’s why he hesitates to shoot.

    • blitzen
      March 9, 2011

      Ha! That reminds me, on the FFT commentary yesterday they said that Jens Lehmann was talking about Szczesny on the German Sky feed. He said he was surprised that Szczesny came off for such an injury because for him the adrenalin would have been so strong he wouldn’t have felt any pain.

      Ah, Lehmann. Still crazy after all these years. 😛

      • Jackieboy
        March 9, 2011

        Doubt he would, since it wasn’t about pain. Szczesny said that after the shot he bent his finger and then just couldn’t get it back straight; he also couldn’t feel the finger.

      • Miguel
        March 9, 2011

        i <3 lehmann & blitzen.

      • Josep
        March 9, 2011

        Jay Cutler would’ve definitely played!

    • Roz
      March 9, 2011

      LOL. Yep thats Dani for ya. I do wonder why he doesent take more fks. Hes has some Golazos from set plays for the Brasil NT.

  12. March 9, 2011

    ecstatic victory, really exciting tie, and to be honest, there could be even more drama had bendtner seized the only chance they had at 87th minute. but i agree that the football gods simply hate to see negative football being played and still won.

    -adriano, busi-smasch combo, worked perfectly.
    -villa needs to sharpen his finishing. bad.
    -we created chances galore like always, and we didn’t finish them and almost caused drama.
    -afellay is such a great great winter signing.
    -wenger fails to admit mistakes, hard to see him take arsenal to success.

    visca barca y bfb!

  13. thierryennui
    March 9, 2011

    Hats off to you guys. The RvP decision was beyond ridiculous, and I do think there’s a decent chance we may have been able to hold onto a position that would have put us through had he not been sent off, but the bottom line is that you guys had two bad calls (one of which should have been a penalty/red card, the other was a good goal which was wrongfully disallowed) go against you in the first leg, and the Diaby tackle should have been a penalty yesterday. I’ve had my tin hat on all day trying to tell my fellow Gooners that a team that basically had 3 of its opponents goals taken off the board has no right to complain about the officiating, but to little avail — people just seem bound and determined to make the van Persie sending off the talking point.

    You guys were better than we were, and deserved to win. Simple as that. And I still have a lot of reservations about some aspects of Barcelona as an organization, and the behavior of your players over the summer, and I’m sure this isn’t an opinion shared by many of my fellow Arsenal fans, but here goes — I hope you guys go on and win it. (A) We could say we lost to the eventual champs; (B) Barcelona is so fun and entertaining to watch; (C) I just can’t bring myself to dislike Messi and Iniesta; and (D) I think you’re the best team, and you deserve it.

    So congrats on a brilliant performance and deserved win. As disappointed as I am, I tip my hat to you.

    • Blow-Grenade
      March 9, 2011

      Dude you are a class act!!!

  14. March 9, 2011

    Wow, I think we’re seeing the benefit of registration with these Gooner comments. Contrast the bile we had here last summer with the classy responses today and yesterday — whoever had the registration idea, take a bow.

    • ooga aga
      March 9, 2011

      i didnt like the registration at first, but now i see it acts as a filter, only allowing in intelligent and classy gooners. the normal trolls probably arent smart enough to figure out how the registration works.

      forgive the barb. i hope arsenal wins the EPL, i couldnt stand to see ManUre or Chelski win again

  15. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    schalke valencia or tottenham milan? my head will explode if i try & watch both.

    • March 9, 2011

      Spurs Milan dude.

      • Miguel
        March 9, 2011

        you’re right, i should check out the starting line-ups.

        Corluka, Gallas, Dawson, A-Ekotto
        Lennon, Sandro, Modric, Pienaar
        Van der Vaart
        Crouch

        Abbiati
        Abate, Silva, Nesta, Jankulovski
        Seedorf, Boateng, Flamini
        Robinho, Pato
        Ibrahimovic

        Neuer
        Uchida, Howedes, M’elder, Escudero
        Farfan, Kluge, Matip, Jurado
        Raul, Gavranovic

        Guaita
        Bruno, Navarro, Costa, Mathieu
        Ever, Topal
        Joaquin, Pablo Hernandez, Mata
        Aduriz
        -goal.com

        tottenham does have a full strenght line-up-aside from big baby bale…

    • blitzen
      March 9, 2011

      I vote for Schalke Valencia!

      • Miguel
        March 9, 2011

        done. 😉

      • blitzen
        March 9, 2011

        Yay! I’ll be checking the score now and then myself. Go valencia!

    • soccermomof4
      March 9, 2011

      have both DVRing- not home right now 🙁
      Go Valencia (want another La Liga team in)
      Go Milan(Gasp! I said that?)(EPL team out (besides, since I can like Arsenal again, I hafta root against Spurs)) as long as BANGS doesn’t get a goal 🙂

  16. blaunero
    March 9, 2011

    Great game. Great result. Now let’s move on. Harder and more difficult games will come. Like next weekend vs Sevilla, which is the most important game of the season.

    • Lev
      March 9, 2011

      the most important game? Because………..

      …….
      …….
      Huh, what, why?

    • blitzen
      March 9, 2011

      Because for Pep the next game is always the most important. 😀

    • Miguel
      March 9, 2011

      the run of play overwritten? they sure like hearing themselves talk. they’re funny.

    • vicsoc
      March 9, 2011

      Overwritten is an understatement.

      I get the feeling Brian Phillips’ spends his time imagining himself as the fourth Foer.

      • vicsoc
        March 9, 2011

        Ugh, I’ve been having some serious issues with apostrophes lately

  17. Vj
    March 9, 2011

    Can anyone please tell me what the wordpress bar is for? Can’t we hide it?

  18. Tom, Dick and Harry
    March 9, 2011

    @Kxevin

    “Our forwards need to go to finishing school.”

    As someone who had spent considerable time playing very close to the opponents’ goal, albeit not at as quite as high level, I can attest the reason for ‘poor’ finishing is exclusively:

    1. Lack of confidence (ex. Villa’s earlier in the season, a chronic issue with Bojan)
    2. Lack of concentration (decision making process) because one ‘lost his breathe’
    3. Of course, a goalkeeper has something to say about it too. Proper positioning and the scouting he had done during preparation.

    Either way, motions are going to be done too fast or too slow, with too much force or not enough of it. When this happens the result is often a miss.

    Considering the skill level and maturity, my money is on the fitness. The much maligned ‘February dip’ in form. The work rate some of these guys have is tremendous and it often takes toll in not so obvious ways.

    On a side note, I am pleased that Adriano had featured prominently last night. A development that should help his growth and yield long term benefits for the team.

  19. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    i love champions league lunch breaks, woo!

  20. Jim
    March 9, 2011

    Great, great team display but so disappointed in the way Arsenal set up. Still, their problem not ours.

    For me, MOTM was Messi closely followed by Iniesta and Abidal. I’m seriously having to reassess my opinion of Abidal at CB – or maybe its just great having any pace at all in that position. Well impressed by the way he was shouting at the defence as well.

    Sorry, but not convinced by Adriano, Masch or Affellay. Adriano much more offensive than Maxwell which is great and full of energy but what did he actually achieve ? I remember a ridiculous cross which almost hit the far corner flag after a stepover, a stupid near post shot which hit the post but was never in with a chance of going in and a match threatening error under no pressure. We’re in danger of going off on one of our hyping up ventures. Happy to hear about other concrete ways he affected the match but don’t give me things like keeping the opposition occupied !

    Masch, I will always be in debt to him for that magnificent tackle that saved our bacon. No tackle, we are out without doubt. Still didn’t think he fitted very well into that passing midfield. Maybe just me. I do love his attitude. The quote on barcastuff about knowing his limitations and that he knows he isn’t a Xavi, Iniesta or Leo speaks volumes about why he is worth keeping.

    affellay is starting to worry me. I’m just not seeing it with him atm. Still, not a night for carping.

    I’m also going to say that I thought Alves’ overall energy and passion was great but he also needs to deliver a bit more from all the possession he has. He had more time than anyone else on the pitch last night. I don’t want to see him trying and failing to beat defenders or hitting the first man with crosses. No excuse for that. Still, I have to admit when he gets it right it’s good.

    finally, another word of praise for Iniesta. Don’t you just love it when you realise he has decided to run at the defence? You just know something good is gonna happen. And we will only truly recognise Xavi’s greatness when he is gone . . .

    • Josep
      March 9, 2011

      Not convinced by the player who is replacing Maxwell? Wow your pro-Maxwellness has gotten out of hand. Clearly just Adriano’s PRESENCE as an attacking force changed the match. If Maxwell is in there we don’t have as much freedom on the left. The fact that he went at attackers, drew arsenal back. Seriously you have some amazing pro-maxwell bias I’ve never seen for another player ever. Just let it go..

      and mascherano was massive! I even saw him in the box at one point. afellay bad?! He was through on goal after beating sagna for pace. tough shot. then he took himself to the endline a few times, but slowed it down. he didn’t need to rush things in the 90th and he didn’t. he was put on to help maintain pressure, possession, and for fresh legs.

      • Jim
        March 9, 2011

        Josep, I’m still waiting for you to give me an example of something in this game he did that impressed you and led to a chance or saved a situation defensively. I’m not saying he won’t be better than Maxwell – if we can get an offensive LB out of him then I’m all for it. Maxwell has had chances and isn’t doing it offensively. I’m just saying that apart from vague statements that don’t mean much what did he actually do ? I remember awful shots and a defensive howler. This is all in a game where we had as much offense and as little defence as any I can remember and I can’t think of one chance he created. I’m putting my views forward by mentioning things that actually happened in the match. Defend him by mentioning times when he set something up and we can discuss. Until such time as that happens it’s not me that isn’t supporting their view.

        I thought I made it clear – Masch was pretty good. My point was that I didn’t see him contributing much to the tight passing in the midfield. Not saying he didn’t have good interceptions etc.

        I’m also not writing Affellay off. I’m saying that so far I’ve seen an average get to the byeline type of attacker who moves awkwardly ( didn’t actually pull away from Sagna at all ) and who doesn’t strike me as a Barcelona type of player. Hey, I could be wrong – it’s early days but that’s what I’m seeing.

      • Josep
        March 9, 2011

        I’m not going to rewatch matches JUST FOR YOU to prove points to you, that apparently you’re the ONLY ONE who doesn;t see. you’re the only one with maxwell-tinted glasses. everyone else sees these things except you so why should I go out of my way to appease the one person who doesn’t see the same things everyone else does?

        Awful shots? clearly exagerration, I think he had one shot which was an absolute laugher. Adriano was a presence the whole match at LB, and like I said because he’s more attacking than Maxwell Arsenal couldn’t cheat over. His presence changed the match. He’s a left footed Alves lite, and Arsenal knew that. they wouldn’t have respected maxwell going forward, as they shouldn’t. and for afellay I guess, like with the other notes, you’re watching different matches from every single person on these boards.

      • Jim
        March 10, 2011

        Yeah, whatever, Josep. We’ll agree to differ – I can’t argue against comments like “his presence changed the match” because it is just an unsubstantiated opinion. I’ve given you actual examples – not least that he almost cost us our entire CL campaign through poor technique – you don’t want to provide a rebuttal – that’s fine. We’ll move on.

    • March 9, 2011

      Adriano: Steals, pressure, pace and physicality.
      Afellay: Helping with ball control, two excellent chances that applied pressure to Arsenal’s tired defense.
      Mascherano: Trick question, right?

      I don’t think it’s a “hyping up venture” to suggest that all three players showed very well in that match. I would say instead of looking at the negative things that Adriano did, look at the positive ones, as well. There were many of them.

      As for Mascherano, he will never fit into our slick, passing midfield. Ever. He isn’t that kind of player, but is instead more of a classic DM that just shuts everything down, pretty much from box to box. That was of immense value last night, given that we had to deputize Busquets at goal-scoring center back.

      Afellay is showing me plenty, more than Jeffren, more than Krkic (not that those contextual comparisons are saying much). He is calm on the ball, has very good control, has pace to beat defenders and moves well without the ball, which is crucial in fitting into our system. And I think Guardiola is starting to like him too, given how much he is playing him when given a choice.

      But we do all watch matches differently, so I can’t do or say anything about your views of Adriano, Afellay and Mascherano. They are your views, and as valid as anyone else’s.

      • Jim
        March 9, 2011

        We all try to call it as we see it but it’s hard to discuss when people just deal in vague strengths/perceived weaknesses rather than actual events from the match.

        And, hey, at least Abidal is starting to impress me . . 🙂

    • vicsoc
      March 9, 2011

      I questioned Adriano extensively throughout the first half of the season, and was convinced he didn’t have the quality to play for the team. However I can’t deny that he played a good match yesterday, better than any I can remember Maxwell putting in for us this season.

      Let’s say, hypothetically, that Abidal’s transition to a center back is going to be more or less permanent starting next season. Am I prepared to accept Adriano as our starting left back? No. But I’m not prepared to accept Maxwell in that position either. If we do buy a new starting left back I have to say Adriano has been making quite the case for keeping him over Maxwell in his last couple of games (not to mention that Adriano is younger, and more versatile).

      Mascherano is really growing into the team, but I agree that he still seems a little out of place at DM sometimes. As Euler has argued many times – I’d love to see Mascherano adapt to playing CB. He would fit in well (my only question would be his positional sense), and actually his skills make him almost a prototypical Barcelona center back. Add in the fact that if he could play there he would A. get more playing time and B. help the club cover some of it’s depth issues, and I think it’s a no-brainer.

      Honestly can’t really see where you’re coming from with Afellay. The last player to look as comfortable as he has in his first month or two in the squad was Alves – and he already knew Spanish and La Liga inside and out.

      • soccermomof4
        March 9, 2011

        I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that most of our worrying about Adriano came when he was playing RB. Comparing him to Alves! No wonder he didn’t cut it. I like him at LB! (not as much as Abi )

    • Miguel
      March 9, 2011

      yeah, i read that. my take it is that without song the pressing game arsenal played in the first leg wasn’t even an option. soaking up pressure, a game of two halves- that’s bs, wenger. he was clutching beads, rubin kazan’s manager style, for a not-negative result.

  21. Josep
    March 9, 2011

    Really about the referees it all balances out, people state 08 chelsea as us bribing Ovrebo. And the pique handball was bad, but a clear makeup call for the Abidal red card. Then there’s the first leg with bosingwa, and ballack. More with inter, etc.

    Anyways what a match. But like stated we need to be far more clinical, for every excuse the Gunner’s have theres an answer. As JNice stated no way RVP is on, in his fitness, in the 88th to finish that chance anyways. Besides if its 11v11 do you think Barca would be as complacent? I’m sure they’d really have tried to kill the game off.

    Not to mention Koscelny would be off for the PK, but was allowed to stay on obviously to makeup for RVP. Which they’d have a harder time replacing a CB than a striker.

    Anyways, tip my hat to the Gooners coming here gracious in defeat, it takes class. You are true class, I like the Gooners who realize, yeah it was harsh on RVP but you can’t complain about refereeing when its blown both ways.

    Anyways to funny things was when our full backs finally shot they both were terrible. Alves finally does and wow. But Adriano on his right foot was even worse, if anyone remembers his shot.. it was kinda funny.

    I’m sure Thiago being on the bench for the match was huge for him to just be there and feel the atmosphere. You think after the kid feels the fiery passion, the atmosphere, the intense feeling, and the great amazing match by Barca he’d leave? No way. He probably phoned his dad to tell him all about it.

    p.s. Btw, JNasty keep your shirt on. no one wants to see you truffle shuffle.

  22. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    Tim Stannard – Schalke v Valencia: “Unai has gone for his normal post modern Western sheriff look with thee quarter-length jacket and wedding style neck tie thingy. Right…the game. Nothing so far.”

    • blitzen
      March 9, 2011

      Unai is hot, yo.

      • Miguel
        March 9, 2011

        it’s all about qique or as tim stannadrd calls him, “the mascara wearing one”

        goal valencia. what a beautiful assist.

      • blitzen
        March 9, 2011

        Quique is hot too. Just sayin’.

        GO VALENCIA!!!!!

  23. March 9, 2011

    rooting for the bats to give raul the rats.

  24. Nav
    March 9, 2011

    Any live blog for the Valencia game?

  25. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    been distracted, talking smack to neighbors in pool, but a lively game between the iberians & the germans so far.

    • vicsoc
      March 9, 2011

      WTF. Neighbors in a pool? It’s hailing here right now.

      • Miguel
        March 9, 2011

        81.0 °

        farfan equalizes. free kick. beautiful curling ball to the keeper’s left. i think it’s tied on aggregate now.

      • blitzen
        March 9, 2011

        Been snowing heavily here all day.

      • soccermomof4
        March 9, 2011

        YuK! White Crap! Glad we don’t have it here (still some of the larger piles melting though) Bring me spring!

  26. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    navarro’s still a thug.

  27. blitzen
    March 9, 2011

    Barcastuff:

    Valdes (11) completed yesterday more passes than Nasri (8), Van Persie (7) and Arshavin (5)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!! 😀

  28. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    aargh. two crappy clearings from guaita lead to a schalke goal. boo.

  29. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    almost a goal…& a handball! valencia’s looking to answer.

  30. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    oh my. ivanovic almost busted a nolito trying to catch the keeper off his line. hit the post. 1 1/2 minutes to go.

  31. Miguel
    March 9, 2011

    farfan!! wow.

  32. jnelson
    March 9, 2011

    Looks like Ibra will be coming back in the summer. Great…

    • Miguel
      March 9, 2011

      noooo!

    • Lev
      March 9, 2011

      That’s ok. We can sell him to Malaga.

    • soccermomof4
      March 9, 2011

      We don’t really have to take him back. Do we? Please say it can’t happen.

  33. Jim
    March 9, 2011

    Sweet dreams Ibra . . . .

  34. Eklavya
    March 9, 2011

    Havin’ fun, Ibra?

    • March 9, 2011

      Nice find, Artur!

  35. ElJefe
    March 10, 2011

    Everything to be said has pretty much been said. It’s a shame that the referee ruined the match, marred the history books, and the chances of mature discussion by Arsenal fans & blogs. But the truth of the matter is, to keep a team with 20 Champions League goals, a team with a chance of topping the Premiership, against ours without its two elite World Cup winning center backs, to Zero shots…

    (allow time to ponder on ZERO shots)

    …simply sums it up. End of discussion.

    What’s striking to me is there is no discussion of what for me was the most astonishing parts of the match…what I consider to be one of the Top 5 big-game penalty kicks I have ever seen.

    http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/lionel-messi-2-arsenal-8709048/

    Find me a stronger, yet more casual, more confident penalty…mesmerizing. A man who appeared to slow down time as if it were a ‘Y’ button in his favorite video game. That was simply an EA FIFA moment.

    Now let’s talk real business..impact to our future line-up. I’ve been hoping all week that Adriano would get his much deserved start today, after his clutch performance against Valencia. But the absolute sheer pelotas of Pep to make that call, with all of the pressure on us, and no real need to score other than to play defensively, score a goal in the 2nd half, and move on with a 1-0 victory comfortably in front of a home crowd. For me this was Pep’s finest hour.

    I like Maxwell, but let’s face it, teams have been cheating when he’s on the field. With no real threat of a goal or a devasting Alves (today’s MVP) cross into the middle, they’ve been throwing bodies into the box and to stifle Alves’ runs. Now with a double-wing threat and samba finesse, we are a (shockingly) even more dangerous team and can free up the center midfield against the ‘stop Chavi, stop Barca’ defense. I’m not on the bandwagon yet, and we need to see consistency, but that is simply a game-changer if it continues.

    My big question for the group is has Mascherano played himself into a starting role on the squad? He arrived for me today…fearless However, me-thinks that with a healthy Pique & Puyol, our season’s MVP Abidal, Busi playing where he belongs, and a double Brazilian flank…it will be tough to fit him in except for specific tactical match-ups.

    Let’s all truly appreciate the victory tonight. This one was special.

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