Barcelona recorded their second disappointing result in the space of four days as they came undone by an Arsenal side unwilling to give up the chase. Not all is lost in the Champions League 1st knockout phase tie, with the Blaugrana having secured an invaluable away goal. Nevertheless, coach Pep Guardiola must only be ruing his team’s inability to end the Gunners’ long European unbeaten home run.
First and foremost, Guardiola will be frustrated at the fact the tie was not over by half time. This was largely down to misfortune, as Lionel Messi’s cute chip bobbled agonisingly past the wrong side of the post. After David Villa finished clinically to put Barca one goal ahead, Argentine forward Messi was again unlucky to have his close-range header ruled out for offside after seemingly little being wrong with the manner in which the goal was converted. Despite Arsenal threatening with pacey attacks, Barcelona soon settled into their usual rhythm of dominating possession by weaving a tapestry of triangular passes, thus siphoning large portions from the stamina tanks of the chasing Arsenal players.
Having comfortably returned to the away dressing room one goal ahead at half time, the Blaugrana were largely expected to return to the pitch and continue the second half in the same style. However, what followed was a combination of a slightly lax and disjointed performance coupled with a renaissance in determination from Arsenal to salvage the tie. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta kept probing, and Messi remained a danger, yet a lack of conviction by certain players proved unproductive to Barca’s cause. Pedro Rodriguez was a livewire, yet displayed somewhat of an ungraceful touch at times and constantly found himself in an offside position. His rashness in front of goal also suggested he is currently perhaps one notch off the class of some of his more illustrious teammates.
For all his fantastic reflexes and shot-stopping qualities, goalkeeper Victor Valdes is also prone to moments of eccentricity. Having wrongly assumed a cross was coming from Robin van Persie, the Blaugrana number 1 left a gaping hole at the near post for the Dutch striker to sneak his shot home for Arsenal’s equaliser.
Lastly, Barcelona were caught too far forward when Arsenal broke on the counter attack to score the winner. With the Gunners having come back into the game and looking dangerous, it could be argued that for once settling for a draw and adopting a more staunch mentality may have been a wise option for Guardiola. However they were forced to look ragged and stretched at the back as the retreating defenders failed to stop Andrei Arshavin stroking home to steal the win for Arsenal.
Regardless, the attacking philosophy is the essence of Barcelona, and it is a strategy that has won them so many honours in recent years. It is a credit to the Blaugrana that they once again dominated Arsenal at their own ground for periods of the game, and many of the Catalan faithful will feel deep down that the away goal will provide enough of a basis to go on and win the tie over two legs.
2 Alves – 3 Pique – 22 Abidal – 19 Maxwell
6 Xavi – 16 Busquets – 8 Iniesta
10 Messi – 7 Villa – 17 Pedro
45 – 17 Pedro on for 20 Afellay
66 – 15 Keita on for 18 Milito
80 – 9 Bojan on for 8 Iniesta