Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona. Unbelievable scoreline! How did we manage that?

The match was billed as the biggest Champions League tie of the round, but for us Gunners, it was the biggest match ever, at the Emirates. The only question was whether it would live to expectations. It surely did!

Our line-up for the game was pretty  much the strongest possible, with the absence of Van Persie taken into account. The major fitness doubt was Cesc, who was a doubt until the pre-match warm-up! He made it, and surprisingly enough, so did Gallas! All our worries last week as to whether Sol would be fit to play were unnecessary it seems, on reflection.

So we lined-up this way:

Almunia

Sagna – Gallas – Vermaelen – Clichy

Song – Diaby

Nasri – Cesc – Arshavin

Bendtner

I’m not sure what I expected from the first 15 minutes, but what we saw was in effect, Barcelona v Almunia! We barely had a touch of the ball and we ought to have been dead and buried, if not for Almunia and some profligate finishing. Does this sound really familiar? Well, it’s exactly what we do to other teams, sometimes- create bucket-loads of chances, only to be thwarted by their goallie or our own poor finishing.

Barca’s first chance came less than 2 minutes into the tie. From a corner routine on the right, the ball was fed to Busquets on the edge of the box, but his low shot was saved by Almunia. Messi then had a chance after 5 minutes, but Almunia made the save. Shortly after, Ibrahimovic had the chance to score seconds later just in front of goal, but he skied it! He was offside anyways, although I’m not sure the referee gave it.

We were living dangerously, as Barca weren’t letting us have the ball (not that they’re meant to ‘let us have the ball’, but you know what I mean!). Ibrahimovic later broke free on the right, but his shot was into the side-netting. Ibrahimovic really ought to have scored yet again, but Almunia saved! And in the space of another few secinds, he saved with his arm from Xavi’s shot, the rebound falling to a Barca player, who’s shot was headed off the line by Song.

Watching the match again now minus the tension, the Barca pressure doesn’t look as relentless, but it definitely felt as if we were being battered every second, last night. Having said that however, the stats show that they had had 9 shots on goal with 5 on target, after only 15 minutes. Hoe many had we had then? None! Wow!

I was thinking to myself at the time, that we just had to weather the early storm and not concede, as there’s no way Barca could keep that intensity up for ther whole 90. They’re a brilliant team, but we’ve got some quality too and it would be inevitable that we’d get a chance sooner or later. We just had to take it whenever it came!

We did have a half-chance with 20 minutes on the clock, after Arshavin’s ball into the box from the right caused a bit of panic in the Barca defence, but we couldn’t capitalise and Barca cleared. Arshavin then tried to retrieve the ball by tackling Busquets, but the tackle was slightly late and he picked up a yellow for his troubles, and it seems that’s where he picked up his own injury!

Nasri then tried a fabulous shot from the left, on the edge of the box, but it went just past the post! Much better from us. It was our first real chance- 22 minutes on the clock! Arshavin couldn’t continue and had to be subbed off, Eboue replacing replacing him. The first 15 minutes was total domination by Barca, but we were able to contain them a bit better after that. It was key not to concede in that period and thanks to Almunia, we didn’t. Compared to the first 15 minutes, they only had 3 shots in the second 15, with only one on target. But we only had the one shot by Nasri, meaning they were doing an even better job at containing us.

The last 15 minutes of the first half were quite even, Bendtner managing to hit the post, but apparently he was offside. Still though, glad we were at least keeping Barca on their toes. Song did get a yellow, and it seems Gallas wasn’t fully fit, as he had a recurrence of his calf injury. He looked really really gutted, and for a minute, I was worried he was going to repeat his Birmingham melt-down, but he held it in! He got subbed for Denilson, meaning Song had to drop into defence. Cesc then got what looked like a harsh yellow, meaning he’s suspended from the second leg. He too looked very gutted! Understandable, though.

So that was the story of the first half. Barca really ought to have been ahead, but credit to us for hanging in there. Very impressive. Annoying though, that we’d used up two of our subs due to injuries and lost key players in Arshavin and Gallas.

Having said that though, all our hard work was undone after less than 20 seconds into the second-half! Despite how well Barca played in the first half, I wasn’t expecting them to score so soon! A long ball from behind found Ibrahimovic on the right and with Almunia choosing to come out towards him, Ibrahimovic had the easy task of lofting the ball over him and into the net. Bad mistake by Almunia, but Song and Vermaelen also at fault, as they lost track of Ibrahimovic. I think it was poor communication, as it didn’t seem Song knew he was meant to be picking up Ibrahimovic.

Anyways we were one-nil down, Barca with the crucial away goal. The early goal rattled us, as we were giving the ball away loads. But we regrouped though, and had the chance to level things, after Clichy’s cross from the left found Bendtner, but his header was straight at the Barca ‘keeper, who made the save. The next few minutes were Not a lot more was happening after that, until Xavi set up Ibrahimovic for his second goal, from pretty much the same position as the first one. Indecision at the back meant we lost Ibrahimovic who was picked out beautifully by Xavi. Almunia stayed on his line this time, rightly so, but a lovely finish into the roof of the net meant he had no chance of saving it.

Barca ought to have been out of sight in the first few minutes of the game, but it looked as if they were, at this point. 2-0 up away from home with 30 or so minutes to go and it looked as if the tie was over. The tears were ready yo start falling at the point, in all honesty!

Arsene decided to bring Theo on for Sagna- our last substitution- and it paid off, big time! His first contribution was a surging run down the right, Barca lucky to get away with just a goal-kick. But his second contribution was a goal, less than 5 minutes after coming on! It was a trade-mark Theo goal really, the assist coming from Bendtner, after he had been found by Cesc.

So all of a sudden it was game on, and we had all the momentum. Barca looked as if they had taken their foot off the gas, but it also looked as if we’d found something- pace, probably! They couldn’t handle Theo. Pique managed to get himself booked for a foul on Cesc, meaning he’s going to miss the second leg. Barca were still dangerous on the counter, Ibrahimovic once breaking free on the left, but Almunia was there to make the save. He ws subbed shortly after for the man we all wanted to see back at the Emirates, finally- Thierry Henry! He got a great reception from the fans- don’t think he deserved any less! He didn’t have much of an impact on the game though, just as well!

10 minutes to go though, and we were desperate to find the equaliser. We kept pressing and in all honesty, we looked more likely to score. Barca were less effective without Ibrahimovic, and given our goal-scoring record in the last 15 minutes, the goal just had to come! The how though, was crucial. Puyol was adjudged to have fouled Cesc in the box and the referee decided to give a penalty and also send Puyol off! Captain Fantastic took the penalty and scored! He hit the ball with so much force, that he managed to pick up a knock in the process! Or at least, that’s how he seemed to have been injured! Barca were down to 10 men, but we were effectively down to 10 as well, as Cesc was struggling terribly.

We were unable to take advantage of it and score a third, which frankly would have felt like day-light robbery, not that we’d have cared, though! So it ended 2-2. Not sure anyone would have predicted that 20 minutes into the game. We showed great character to come back from 2 nil down and we’ve got a chance at the Nou Camp. A slight chance, but still a chance.

Cesc will be missing, Gallas too and most likely Arshavin, but you never know! Barca will also be missing their first choice central defenders through suspension, so they’ve got problems of their own.  As long as we don’t lose or draw 1-1, we could be through to the semis! I do think the return leg will be quite open and I’ll take a 3-3 draw as we’ll be through! I guess we’ll see, but it looks like it will be an epic!

The possession stats are a bit worrying- 38%-62% in Barca’s, but the one I think is more telling is that despite them having 14 shots on target & us having only 2, the game finished 2-2. It’s all about taking your chances. It was the kind of match where there’s so much to talk about, but I think I’ve said too much already! :)

As usual, I’ll end with Arsene’s thoughts:

“I must first say that we played against a great team who was dominant in the early part of the game. That’s where we were lucky because they had early chances. We gave them too much room to play. But I must say I give a lot of credit to my players because we kept in the tie at 2-0 against a team like Barcelona. If you have no mental strength you can go down to 5-0 but we came back to 2-2. The only regret I have tonight is the way we gave the two goals away. We were lucky to be 0-0 at half time but I am convinced that had we not given those two cheap goals away we would have won the game.”

When asked about how it feels to be outplayed:

“It is not easy, believe me, but you respect it more than when you are kicked. I respect what Barcelona did tonight and you have to say they are a great side. They won the European Cup, the [Spanish] championship, the [Spanish] Cup, and you can see why. I still believe that a part of their superiority was down to their inhibition at the start of the game. We gave them too much room in the first part of the game.”

Why he thinks we’ll qualify:

“Because we have to study well how we be dominant and win the ball back. I believe that when we win the ball back we always looked dangerous against them. Especially using some weaknesses that we have exploited quite well tonight. We have to go for that.”

Glad the boss shares my optimism, but that game’s not until Tuesday. We’ve got a massive game in the League against Wolves, coming up on Saturday so we have to switch our attention to it. 3 points there, alongside a draw between Man United and Chelsea, and we’ll be looking very good for the League title!

Can’t wait…!

  • devday

    Just come out of the official site – no more Cesc this season!

    Following a scan this afternoon, the Club can confirm that Cesc Fabregas has suffered a small crack in his right fibula as a result of the collision with Barcelona defender Carles Puyol during Wednesday evening’s match.

    As a consequence, Cesc will miss the remainder of the domestic campaign as he will be out of action for at least six weeks.

    Everyone at the Club wishes Cesc a full and speedy recovery.

  • http://arsenalandtherandomthoughtsofmylife.blogspot.com/ Debs

    I just read that and my heart sank right to my feet! We CAN cope without him, but life would be SO much better with him around. Really gutting! We looked like getting back a full squad with RvP almoat fit, but then we lose Cesc, Gallas and Arsh! Unbelievable!

  • goonerman

    pretty sad news about cesc but like i saidc before it gives a chance for the rest of the team to show their quality and character, also nasri has the rest of the season to fill
    some big boots and show what he can do in fabby’s position!

    one bit of good news is that gallas should be back in a couple of weeks and im sure wenger wont risk him early this time, we have had amazingly bad luck and injuries yetr again this season and whatever happens over the next month and a bit we should all be proud because we have played pretty much understrength for the whole season and we are were we are still!

    GO THE GOOOONERS

  • CON-MAN

    First of all want to say I havent been on here a while, because I’ve had a buttload of uni work to do, but will definately be on here more often, especially as our season nears the end and I’ll want to hear you guys opinions on how we play!

    that said, yesterday was a cracking game. It was like kinda like watching what we do week in week out to all the other prem clubs. Barca were relentless and for a while it seemed like we were in awe of them.
    Almunia did do a great job keeping us in it. I feel we were lucky to get a 2-2 draw but Barca did kind of drop off in the last half hour. Even after Theo scored they didnt really start playing.

    With Cesc out for the season and gallas and arshavin out for a while, it looks like our bid for the title and even the CL 2nd leg will be decided by the cruel cruel injury Gods. I feel like we definately have no luck whatsoever. I mean gallas and arshavin both had knocks coming in and even Cesc wasnt really his imposing self in the 1st half. I dont want to blame anyone but Im quite annoyed with Arsene. January came and went with no signings (dont count campbell) and now as we approach the home straight, were strapped at the back with campbell not being able to play back to back games.

    Im looking forward to the 2nd leg but it will be a challenge. Edgar Davids had a good point saying that the nou camps pitch is much bigger and Barca could punish us if they can exploit that space.

    looking forward to the wolves game now, anyone going?

  • Nick

    Just out luck to come back from 2-0 down to the defending champs and we lose Cesc for the remainder of the season. This is so sad. To have watched the courage and heart he displayed yesterday limping out the last 10 minutes of the match because he wanted to be out there so badly. He is truly the EPL player of the year but Shrek gets all the attention because of his goals.

    I wish Cesc a speedy recovery and hope he heals for the World Cup. Spain and the world need to see Cesc at his best.

    The other sad thought, given the never ending rumors that we hear about Cesc and Barcelona. Could yesterday have been his last match in Arsenal red? That is a horrible thought and I don’t think there’s any way he’d want to leave the Gunners with that as his last memory.

    Will it be difficult finishing out the season without our captain? Yes

    Can we finish strong and still win the league? Yes

    Just like our spirit after Aaron Ramsey’s injury. Lets win this season for all our fallen teammates who’ve helped us get to this point in the season where it’s do or die. Believe!

    RVP come back soon! Nasri can/will Cesc’s shoes! Bendtner, Eddie, Arshavin get on the score sheet! Theo keep up the performances like you gave against Barcelona. Almunia, play the rest of the season like you did against Barcelona in the first half.

  • JDD

    walcott will get a place in the startong 11 now as i expect nasri to fill in for fabregas(his best position)meaning walcott will play out wide.campbell will have to play for at least the next 2weeks and arshavin is out for 2 maybe 3 weeks so i’d expect eboue/rosicky:

    Wolves
    Almunia
    Clichy Vermaelen Song Sagna
    Diaby Denilson Nasri
    Rosicky Bendtner Walcott

    Barca
    Almunia
    Clichy Vermaelen Campbell Sagna
    Diaby Song Nasri
    Eboue Bendtner Walcott

  • devday

    Wolves
    Almunia
    Eboue – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby – Denilson – Nasri
    Rosicky – Bendtner – Walcott

    Barca
    Almunia
    Sagna – Song – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby Denilson Nasri
    Eboue Bendtner Walcott

  • kodjo

    Can’t fault the endeavour of the team in the second half but for the 1st half i dont know how we mannaged to stay in the game thanks to almunia though he undid all the good work by those ’2 goals’. i wont blame him cos but for him barca w’d have been out of sight

    tactically though i thought arsene got it wrong in 2 or 3 key areas maybe due to the personnel at his disposal.

    we needed to have b52 pressing pique & puyol so as to cut out supplies to the midfield areas or make it hard for them. b52 didnt do that, don’t know if he had the legs or was instructed to drop back into the midfield areas……this lack of pressing accounted for the 2 goals cos pique had the time to pick his pass

    admittedly b52 is not the kind of player who will hurry and hassle probabbly hasnt go a great engine for that ‘donkey job’….i am not criticising him as his contribution for the 2 goals was immense and he could have got 1 or 2 if he had gone for placement instead of power

    it was critical that our wide midfield players nasri and archavin press alves and the barca left back but this did not happen especially when arshavin was on the field …in certain ways i was happy that eboue came on as he stopped the barca left back from joining the attacks…..

    nasri was up against alves, messi and xavi and this forced him inside instead of out leavin alves too much room…as diaby did not cover as much ground as possible

    my thoughts are as follows for the return leg play walcott on the right to give barca something to think about…as it w’d push keita or toure back

    then play armand traore on the left bcos he has speed a good crosser of the ball which b52 w’d thrive on and can help out at the defensive end. alternatively play eboue in that position but that will mean losing a fraction of a second crossing the ball as he is not a natural left footed player

    in my previous post i mentioned that playing denilson would be good idea just bcos of the nature of the game and boy did he prove me right!!!!

    the combination of nasri, denilson, diaby have to play somehow if song plays defense….

    we are still in the game as i do not expect barca to play at the same level….what i witnessed is one-off…i hope!

  • kodjo

    @ devday:
    good tactical squad makeup but i w’d throw in traore as mentioned in my previuos post…i know folks will think i am crazy but seeing barca play it would be good game for him and playing to our strengths and to the strenght of b52.

    it w’d mean that eboue w’d have no place…but that is almost inconceivable given his form of late.

  • kodjo

    Wolves
    Almunia
    Eboue – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby/Merida – Denilson – Nasri
    Rosicky/Vela – Edu – Walcott

    Barca
    Almunia
    Sagna – Song – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby-Denilson-Nasri
    Eboue/Traore-Bendtner-Walcott

  • vj

    barca didnt just get 2 away goals,
    weve lost our CAPTAIN FANTASTIC for the season (mare almunia captin till vp back)

    ARSHAVIN 2 WEEKS meaning pretty much the whole league

    GALLAS 3 weeks so season as well out for him

    CLICHY slightly injured may miss this weekend so probs traore left back

    DENILSON problem as well

    now thats 4 starting players in my opinion not to mention cover centre back missing (djourou) cover left back (gibbs)
    cover centre mid (ramsey) probs no vanpersie this weekend
    Barca have really hurt us i hope denilson is fine

    we need people like walcott nasri bendtner varmaelen especially almunia to step up this weekend get the three points. Once van persie back i hope he can continue his goal scoring form

  • Sam

    I wouldn’t risk Theo on Wolves, we can’t afford to lose him to injury.

  • vj

    @ Sam:
    we also cant risk dropping more points

  • Sam

    Can Arsenal take a defender on “loan” for the next few weeks? Would such a player be allowed to play in Cham lg??!!

  • vj

    on a different note read henry’s interview on the arsenal website, it would have been better for us to hve come beack from 2-0 down and win but 2-2 is not bad for us. Question marks over who is he really supporting

  • Kuka

    Am absolutely proud of this team. They have pretty much gone through all huddles there are in this world. Ranging from multiple injuries, referee decisions, crucial losses, negative publicity…..name it. I still wonder how they are 3rd on the table, fighting for the league and holding on to a 2nd quarter final of the champions league. You get a feeling that this team can take anything and deal with with. Am gutted about the injuries, but am consoled by the determination and spirit that the squad has shown this far. With the problems we have had, any team in top flight would struggle. You should see the panic in the United camp due to Rooney’s injury. We have lost close to 4 players….

  • manoo

    i wanna stress that the barca players and pep both think that their 1st half performance is their best ever away performance and yet we drew- its very unlikely that barca will be able to be as good as they were, so i think our chances on tuesday are better than people think. If our defeding wasnt shmabolic for those two goals, then like wenger said, we wouldve won, despite the best team in europe having their best game. So on tuesday, despite the inuries which are a blow considering those 3 are unlikely to feature again this season, if we cut the crap in defence and press from the 1st minute when we dont have the ball, we are more then capable of beatin them. As someone said previously, as long as we dont lose or draw 1-1, then we’re through(or ET at least) so lets go all out on tuesday

    Regarding wolves tomorrow, this is a must win to stay in touch, and we will all be hoping for a draw or at least chelsea win. BUT WE MUST WIN. ON top of that we have to try and win every game.

    With the new injuries, I have a feeling the cl is our best shot, as its a performance over 2 game rather than being consistent which we may struggle with due to the injure=ies- however i do think we are more than capable of winning all our remaning games in EPL with this squad- they just gota keep it togethor and not make any erros, ala alumunia at bham.

    COME ON ARSENAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • goonerman

    the main reason i wasnt to beat wolves tomorrow is becuase mick mcarthey is one of the few premier league bosses i think is a complete cock!

  • ny

    Theo and Walcott will be reserved for Barca.

    For Wolves

    Almunia
    Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby – Denilson – Nasri
    Rosicky – Bendtner – Eduardo

    If we get a good start then Nasri will be substituted by Vela and then on line up will be

    Almunia
    Sagna – Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
    Diaby – Denilson – Rosicky
    Vela – Bendtner – Eduardo

    Hope Arsene read this…

  • vj

    i reckon traore and eboue could start for us at the back walcott will get some game time i reckon rosicky will patner theo on the wing B52 on his own and then vela eduardo fran merida substitutes for theo rosicky nasri respectively

  • Sam

    We NEED a ManU-Chel draw, and so far so good. 15 min gone.
    A few yellow & red cards would be nice too!

  • Kuka

    If it gets worse, a Chelsea win will be OK for us too. United winning might be dangerous for us

  • Sam

    Yeh, a Chelsea win is the 2nd best result.
    But I’m pretty sure the ref will give a penalty in last minutes to rescue ManU.

  • Kuka

    Watching the United-Chelsea game and am
    thinking United does depend on Rooney in every way. Am
    not complaining but you sought of feel, that they depend on Rooney more than we rely on Fabregas

  • Kuka

    The game is at the point where dubious decisions go in United’s favor

  • Sam

    1-2. Chelsea now 6 points ahead of us. 10 min to go, ManU will engineer a way for a draw.

  • Sam

    If ManU get a goal, it’ll be demoralising for Chelsea.
    Then, ManU will get demoralised after their CL defeat by Bayern.

  • Sam

    1-2. If not Arsenal, then I’d rather anyone but ManU as champs.
    Now for our 3 points! It won’t be easy.

  • Kuka

    2-1 to chelsea is a great result for us. We win and are 3 points to
    the top, which is great for us. Would have been suicidal if united won. I
    hope this humbles them

  • Kuka

    Me like you Sam: If not us, anyone but United

  • Sam

    Fresh out of arsenal.com

    TEAM NEWS: Seven changes for Wolves game

    Arsène Wenger has made SEVEN changes to his side for today’s Premier League clash with Wolves.

    Three of those changes are enforced – Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin and William Gallas all picked up injuries against Barcelona. But Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby drop to the bench.

    Into the team come Sol Campbell, Mikael Silvestre, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Eboue and Eduardo.

    Arsenal team: Almunia, Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Song, Denilson, Rosicky, Walcott, Eboue, Eduardo. Subs: Fabianski, Clichy, Diaby, Nasri, Eastmond, Bendtner, Vela

  • Gooner Get Ya

    Another dodgy decision that’s gone against us…and we haven’t played yet!!! Drogba’s goal was the simplist offside decision I have ever seen.

  • Kuka

    @Gooner get ya: sorry but it might have been in united’s favor. If Arsenal doesn’t win the league, I would root for Chelsea. 3 points us doable off course if we start by beating wolves

  • Kuka

    Wenger for sure has ten eyes on the game at Barca. Those changes are major. The back four is the most experienced I have seen in an Arsenal shirt

  • Gooner Get Ya

    The yids are 1-0 down already

  • Sam

    0-0. Frustrating. Eduardo short of confidence.

  • Sam

    0-0 for us so far.
    The great year-end crash of the pretenders starts today. Down 2-0!

  • Josiah

    we need to win.

  • Josiah

    if we dont beat a ten man wolves i will cry

  • Josiah

    GET IN THERE

  • Gooner Get Ya

    Big game bentdner

  • Gooner Get Ya

    *bendtner

  • Sam

    Oh wow!!! Last second Gunners do it again!
    Something special about these boys. Every time they’re down, they get running again.

  • vj

    goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool
    bendtner u god

  • tm17

    yeeeeeeeesssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Kuka

    Something special about this team!!!!! They do deserve a trophy. They are something special…….

  • Pissed off

    Every week seems like a script written ages ago. Am sure we will definitely see more nail bitten, twist and turns to the race. Manu loose, Chelsea win and the Arsenal win. Lets go on and win Barca and Tott.

  • Sam

    All in all, a good day!
    ManIOU lost.
    We won, cutting the lead from 4 points to 3.
    Pretenders lost, and in 2 hours time, ManCity will replace them at 4th.

  • Kuka

    At this rate am not sure who I am rooting for in as far 4th is concerned. I can’t stand city, neither can I stand spurs….

  • Gooner Get Ya

    Man city are 6-0 up

  • Kuka

    Is there a way that Liverpool can win 4th?

  • Kuka

    Spurs will never get 4th Spot: This is how their run-in looks like:

    Arsenal (H), Chelsea (H), Man Utd (A), Bolton (H), Man City (A), Burnley (A)

  • Kuka

    I will stick with Liverpool whose run-in looks like this:

    Birmingham (A), Fulham (H), West Ham (H), Burnley (A), Chelsea (H), Hull (A)

  • Kuka

    “Seriously, being a Arsenal fan is bad for my health…I can’t take much more of this, it’s the hope that kills you!! I want this season over with so I can sleep at night!! – Says An Arsenal Fan on BBC-606

    Do you agree with the guy? I do….

  • Sam

    Kuka – this sure ain’t good for my health. I just can’t concentrate on any thing but Arsenal.

  • JDD

    zlatan ibrahimovic might be out for tuesdays match i would be fair for them to get injuries considerin we have 5