Arsenal’s victory over Barcelona yesterday was the stuff that dreams are made of. A bit of a rivalry has been developing between the clubs, and Arsenal has now tipped the scales in their favor. It was an epic performance against an equally brilliant challenger, and Arsenal deserve much more praise than anyone outside the Arsenal blogosphere are giving them.
The start of the game was indicative that Arsenal could pull off a win. We were dominating possession and getting some really good opportunities. It was only after the first 15 minutes that Barcelona began to settle. We continued to play a high line and pressed possession at every opportunity, which seemed to catch Barcelona off guard. The high line only failed us a couple of times (which is a couple of times too many), mainly due to Barcelona’s speed and a lack of concentration in our defense. But that could be overly critical.
As Arseblog mentioned, Barcelona were playing at their best. We should keep this in mind because it’s not as if we just got lucky or they had an off day. We beat them on their best day, with almost their best squad (like ours). We can never forget this.
The main of the night was Jack Wilshere, and everyone is unanimous in that proclamation. The boy wonder is now a man wonder, whatever that is. He played his own style of football that we goners are used to seeing day in and day out. However, he played it against what people continue call the best team in the world. The collective age and experience of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, and Messi didn’t deter him at all. He was calm and collective on the ball, maintained possession in dangerous situations, and created opportunities and passing lanes. He was in there.
He looks for Arshaviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!!!! Martin Tyler was getting really heated up as Nasri barreled down that right side from Fabregas’ pass. Just check this video courtesy of Arsenalist and 101greatgoals. Arshavin is a little deserving of redemption from the critics and pundits that have dogged him. Although his form has dipped slightly, he is still a great player, and he proved that in what I already called a brilliant substation from Wenger. I was confused that Denilson wasn’t the selection, but Arhsavin proved to be the right choice. The little Russian is working out well as a substitute assassin. That second goal was a thing of beauty, from the back line to the back of the net in a matter of seconds.
Fabregas had a great game as well, although he was marked heavily by the opposition. It was a good thing Wilshere had such a great game, because Fabregas was barely allowed wiggling room because of the heavy pressure on him. Although Busquets had some poor lapses, by and large Fabregas was cut off. The Barcelona camp had said that he was among their top priorities, and it showed on the pitch. The game had particular significance to Fabregas, with an uncertain future and what I’m sure were conflicted feelings about playing his boyhood club. It was great to see him lead Arsenal to victory.
Alex Song was forced to play a stunted role because of the early yellow card. The early yellow was a huge decision from the referee, which was given without prior offense. From that point on, everybody held their breath every time Song went in for a challenge. We all know that even a clean challenge can result in another card depending on the reaction of the opposing player, so it was a dicey situation for Song. Fortunately he continued to press well and came off in what was a perfect sub from Wenger early in the second half.
Walcott’s speed gave Barcelona problems and confusion. Unsure of his movements, cutting inside or pushing out, Barcelona allowed Walcott to create space and openings for Arsenal. When Bendtner came on for Walcott in the 77th, I think Barcelona felt as though they’d escaped the speed problem. Nasri proved them wrong.
Koscielny was a stalwart in our back line. Although both he and Djourou played well, Koscielny was the man who stood out. Every game he is better and better, and this was the match where you wanted to see him really stand out. He made Barcelona’s strikers look like chumps.
Clichy could be blamed for Barcelona’s goal, but he also set up Van Persie’s. Besides, the whole line was caught off by that Barcelona goal. I don’t think it’s fair to single out Clichy. Clichy was an instrumental figure in taking apart the Barcelona passes.
Robin van Persie was a menace for Pique and Abidal. And frankly for Maxwell and Dani Alves as well. He had 7 shots, more than anyone else on the pitch (2 more than Messi). He also had the most shots on goal. Van Persie’s first goal was a thing of beauty. It was the type of shot that strikers take and you get angry for wasting such a narrow opportunity. But guess what? Those crazy shots can go in if the circumstances are right.
Here’s a nice little gif of Samir being a badass has also surfaced courtesy of arsegirl on tumblr. That looks like a pulled Karate Chop.
One of the things we’ll benefit from on the return leg in Barcelona is the appearance of Sagna. Although Eboue was great in the right back position that he now frequents, we all know that at the end of the day Sagna offers an edge in both defensive and offensive strength. Eboue put in a solid performance and it’s a good thing that he is still a member of the squad, despite his ups and downs. Let’s all remember that Eboue was party of the 11 that beat Barca.
As usual, Zonal Marking has a nice write-up of the match.
And @GunnerArchitect pointed me in the direction of this nice little clip from Nike which shows all of Fabregas’ secrets. It’s pretty much exactly what he did on the second goal to set up that lengthy Nasri pass/run.
Here’s a clip of Szczesny pumping it via 7amkickoff. With moves like that, he’s going to give Lehmann a run for his money as “most bizarre Arsenal keeper”. Yeah Szczesny… give it to that ghost… do it. Given his performance, he can celebrate however he’d like. He never waive red, and came up with some really spectacular saves. This guy was our third string keeper not so long ago!