Walcott 69, Fabregas (pen) 85
Ibrahimovic 46, Ibrahimovic 59
There are not many teams in world football which can limit Arsenal’s possession of the football, leaving the Gunners chasing shadows in the style of so many of Arsene Wenger’s opponents, but that is exactly what was witnessed at the Emirates.
Following on from Barcelona’s hugely successful campaign last season, pundits throughout Europe have consistently waxed lyrical about the midfield capabilities of Pep Guardiola’s side. In the first 45 minutes of this encounter the Catalan outfit delivered a masterclass in possession football. Xavi continually orchestrated the proceedings from midfield often being the first option for a pass for anyone of the Barca plays regardless of their position. When in possession himself the Spaniard knows exactly when to play one touch and when to hold onto the ball and wait for the run of a teammate. The awareness of the position of his teammates and opponents alike is a quality which few possess to the level of Xavi. This performance was achieved without his usual partner in crime Andres Iniesta and a relatively low key performance from Lionel Messi.
The performance in possession of the ball at times was something to behold but what is often overlooked when discussing the best club side in world football, but which was abundantly clear throughout this encounter, is the work rate shown by Guardiola’s charges. Fleeting Arsenal possession was met with constant pressing and harrying from Barcelona which at times forced players so accustomed to large amounts of possession to make hurried and ultimately poor decisions. Arsene Wenger’s men should take great note of what was achieved by Barcelona as if they can reproduce the same kind of work rate coupled with the ability on the ball shown often enough over recent seasons this could undoubtedly prove a successful blend for the Gunners themselves.
With a player such as Zlatan Ibrahimovich in the side Barca also have a great out ball when necessary. The presence of the huge Swede brings an aerial ability not seen before at the Nou Camp coupled with his undoubted technical ability means that the Catalan’s can switch up their neat interplay with more direct passing. This was a tactic which was to break the deadlock in this encounter with a traditional channel ball, albeit and some poor goalkeeping, proving the undoing of Arsenal. Throw the experience of a born leader such as Carles Puyol into the defence we can see another prime example of where this Arsenal side is lacking. Talented players in their own right the likes of William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen simply do not have the presence and the same defensive attributes as Puyol. Barcelona may be famed for their unique ability but first and foremost they are a proper football side which does the nitty gritty well – something which cannot always be said of Arsenal.
It is a little unfair to criticise Arsenal in the face of their impressive come-back ,but it was all too apparent throughout this encounter that Arsenal were second best. With the scoreline slanted in favour of the Catalans and the Gunners being without their own Spanish schemer making the semi-finals looks like a task one too many for Arsenal. What can be taken from this tie however is a huge lesson in what needs to be done to convert a talented side into a successful side.