A story of two halfs, and of two coaches – one who made the right substitutions and the one that messed them up. Barcelona led 1-0 after comfortably and convincingly outplaying Arsenal in the first half, with plenty of opportunities to execute the finishing blow, but somehow couldn’t. Oh, and they had a goal disallowed despite it being a legit one. Nonetheless, David Villa’s 26th minute goal, breaking the offside trap with clinical precision and speed was suppose to carry Barca the whole 90 minutes it seemed.
Then came the second half. Arsenal didn’t make any changes but Barcelona just seemed content with staying back and letting the gunners try and fail. The crowd kept Arsenal pushing and Jack Wilshere’s brilliant second half, helping Fabregas gain control of the middle, was crucial as Guardiola took out David Villa and threw Keita in, leaving Messi as the lone striker. That didn’t work, and Barcelona fell into a lethargic state. Arsenal kept pushing, and Wenger put in Bendtner for Walcott. Eventually, it was Van Persie, breaking the offside trap, who equalized, with a brilliant shot from a nearly impossible angle, fooling Valdes who went for the cross instead of the shot.
Barcelona seemed stunned, and Arsenal took advantage, hitting with a beautiful counter – Fabergas found Nasri striding on the right wing. Nasri opened things up and delivered a precise ball to Andrei Arshavin, scoring a beautiful goal with a awesome swerve and with perfect technique. That goal gave Arsenal the win they missed out on last year. Dani Alves was able to create another chance in the dying second, Szczesny made sure Arsenal had the win.
So is this a repeat of last year? Are Arsenal heading into the Nou Camp like lamb before the slaughtering? They have a win this time, not a 2-2 draw which gave Barcelona the advantage, but still, Barcelona are still the favorites to make it out of this one. Arsenal are not Inter, and when they defend with numbers it’s far from being a effective scheme. Wenger can’t and won’t try to last 90 minutes against that kind of pressure.
Robin Van Persie said in the post game interview that he was pleased they beat Barcelona at their own game, plus they got a little lucky. So true. Arsenal seemed frightened of the mean machine from the Catalan coast in the opening minutes, hardly able to keep possession for more than three passes. Barcelona had over 70% possession in the first half. Maybe it was Wenger or perhaps the atmosphere in the stadium that changed it for Arsenal, but the second half showed they can play some football.
The same state of mind is crucial for the second leg, because I don’t see Guardiola taking out David Villa so early again, or Lionel Messi missing the same chances. Barcelona are too good of a team to make those mistakes again, and Arsenal need a nearly flawless game plan in two weeks to reach the quarter finals.