Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal (agg 6-3)- The Messi Show

I thought I’d feel a bit better in the morning, but waking up and all you can hear on the radio for a good hour is ‘Messi, Messi, Messi!’. Not really what you want to hear after he’s single-handedly killed your Champions League dream. But in truth, what can you say? It WAS the Messi show.

With so many injuries to key players, our line-up wasn’t anywhere near our strongest. The good news at the time, was Theo starting and the bad news? Well, Silvestre starting instead of Sol, as Sol wasn’t fit enough. We only had half a chance of beating Barca (or at least drawing 3-3), but the prospect of Silvestre v Messi reduced those chances considerably. Not because Silvestre is the worst defender ever, but because not even the best CB in the world can stop Messi, and having your last choice CB facing him, well, things just got ever so harder!

The starting XI:

Almunia

Sagna – Silvestre – Vermaelen – Clichy

Denilson – Diaby

Walcott – Nasri – Rosicky

Bendtner

It’s hard looking at that team and not thinking of the missing players. Apart from in goal, we were missing practically the spine of the team- missing a key central defender (Gallas), defensive midfielder (Song), attacking midfielder (Cesc) and striker (RvP). And not to mention our own unknown quantity, Arshavin. People go on about squad depth, but this team would beat most teams in the world, but coming against the best team with the best player, no matter how good your second XI team is, you’d stand a much better chance of beating them with your full squad, especially in their own back-yard.

I didn’t think we’d beat Barca, but I thought it might be a mental game which would end up finishing 3-3! And we started well, too. Barca may have had their fair share of possession, but we restricted them in relation to chances created, at least compared to the first leg. We were getting the tackles in, even though we weren’t creating much.

And the best thing happened- we scored with practically our first attack! From a counter-attack Diaby won the ball on the halfway line- even though it looked as if he’d fouled his man, he hadn’t- fed the ball to Theo on the right who was very much onside and with Bendtner keeping pace with him, he tried to find him. The ball was slightly behind him and his initial shot was saved by Valdes, but Bendtner reacted quickly and stuck the ball into the net! We were ahead! I can’t believe how completely mental I went but I bet I wasn’t the only one!

The game was on. That feeling was surreal, shame it didn’t last long enough, though. We had the chance to maybe make it 2 nil, but Diaby, instead of picking out Theo in an excellent position, went for the wrong option and the chance was lost. And 3 minutes later, Messi equalised. Note how I didn’t say Barca had equalised, as it was all Messi, really. He played a lovely and fortuitous one-two with Silvestre on the edge of the box and hit a fierce shot into the roof of the net. Very similar to his goal against Stuttgart in the last round. Unstoppable, really. Maybe Silvestre could have done better, but credit to Messi, though. It was a cracker. Only 20 minutes on the clock.

15 minutes later, they were 2-1 up. Messi again. He found Abidal who was in behind our defenders. His cut-back wasn’t the best but the ball was passed back to Messi who simply hit the ball over Almunia into the back of the net. We still only needed one goal to level things up, but in no time, Messi had had his hat-trick, and another great finish. Vermaelen went for a header, missed it and Messi was in, one on one against Almunia. All he did was chip it over Almunia. Impudently, one would say! A 21-minute hat-trick! He could have made it four minutes later, but his touch was a bit heavy, and Silvestre was back to clear the danger.

Half-time, 3-1 down.

Considering we were 2-0 down in the first leg and came back, I was still hopeful. And we were still on for my 3-3 prediction! But in reality, though, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. Maybe at 2-1 we had a chance, but that 3rd goal had done the damage. The half-time stats didn’t make particularly good reading. We might have completed 61% of our passes, but compare that to Barca’s 85%. They completed 288 passes, how many did we complete? 82. Wow. Possession was 69%- 31%, obviously in favour of Barca. Not only did they have more of the ball, but they were able to use to ball better than us, because of the amount of pressure they put on us when we had it.

The second half in all honesty, simply meandered on. Not that many chances were created. We kept trying to get into the game, but nothing was working well. We were on the back-foot most times and Barca were carving us open whenever they wanted. But at least their final ball was slightly lacking. We had a few chances too, but our final ball was lacking too! Barca didn’t need to press much because as it stood, they were going through, and they were doing enough to stifle us. A number of our players did well, in the circumstances. Clichy played exceptionally well, and did Bendtner quite well. There wasn’t that much on offer for us, but the players tried their hardest to get into it, but Barca were better than us in pretty much every department. Any time we were in decent positions, they were on to us in a flash.

Arsene later took off Silvestre for Eboue, Sagna moving to CB. It was an attacking move, but the damage had already been done in the first half.We had a great chance through Rosicky. He had time and space but took it first time and it went high and wide. Good chance, that. Pedro had a great chance too, from a quickly taken free-kick, but his lob went wide of the far post.

I still thought we could nick a goal in the last 15 minutes as usual, and we even hit the post through Bendtner after a fabulous Sagna cross,  but he was offside. Another change, Eduardo for Rosicky, but it didn’t change much, really. We kind of had the better of the last 15 minutes, but when we were looking our most dangerous, Messi felt he’d seen enough and shut us down with his 4th goal on the night. 4 goals?! Unbelievable. I guess we kind of felt how Liverpool did when Arshavin did the same to them, but at least they’d scored more than one! Back to Messi. He could have had his 4th after 82 minutes as he danced his way into the box, but Vermaelen’s last-ditch defending was excellent. He did it for real after 87 minutes. He tricked his way into the box and his first shot was saved by Almunia, but his was on to the rebound in a flash and slipped the ball through Almunia’s legs. If there were any fans like me who still harboured any hopes of an Arsenal come-back, they were truly extinguished there and then. You can only watch and admire, really. The game was over. It was at half-time, in all honesty.

The defeat was a bit hard to take, not because we didn’t do our best- we did, or at least we tried to- but because you always strive to be the best, and to realise you’re quite clearly second-best doesn’t sit easy. We were missing an unbelievable number of key players, but I can’t help thinking that even if they were available and we’d scored more goals or had been more evenly matched with Barca, Messi simply would have turned it up a notch and outdone us. Maybe we weren’t really outdone by a better team, per se, but we were outdone by a football genius.

We lost Gallas and Song, they lost Puyol and Pique. We lost Robin, Cesc and Arshavin, they lost Ibrahimovic. Why couldn’t the football-gods have been kinder? You know, in exchange for all our injured players,we only wanted Messi out and it’d have been even-stevens. But yeah, we did our best with what we had, but it wasn’t enough. No shame losing to them, but it was still a gutting experience. Less so if it was against United or Chelsea, but losing never is easy to take, even if you lost to the better team. We couldn’t get Theo into the game enough, meaning our main threat was nullified.

We were gracious in defeat, Arsene and Bendtner having nothing but praise for Barcelona.

Arsene:

“First I want to congratulate Barcelona and wish them good luck. Over the two games they deserved to qualify. They are a very good side but of course they have Messi who can make a difference at any moment in the game. He can take advantage of every mistake we make.”

“I believe we played quite well. We started strong, had a good opportunity to score the second goal and were a bit unlucky because we had a good chance when Bendtner was not offside. The regret I have is that we made too many mistakes defensively for a game like that. They were always first on the ball and we were punished for it.”

“The defeat is very difficult to handle because when you go out of the Champions League the next day you are in front of a very empty future. We have to deal with the disappointment and make sure that we are ready for the next game.”

Bendtner:

“We made a great start and it was very important in the five minutes after we scored that we were tight. But in the end, if you look at the whole game they were a better team and deserved to win.”

“Messi scored four fantastic goals and is a phenomenal player in a great team.

“At the moment, I would say he is the best player in the world.

“It is easy to make up excuses but, on the day, with what happened they were a better team than us. I would rather get beaten by a better team, to be able to say we did what we could, rather than be robbed in the last minute.”

Anyways, onwards and upwards. We might have played the best team on Tuesday, but our next game is against Sp*rs- will definitely be a much easier game! It’s the League or nothing for us and if we can give them a good hiding, that’ll inject a huge amount of confidence for the rest of the campaign. I’m looking forward to that. We might not be the best team in the world- that’s Barcelona- but let’s show that at least we’re the best team in North London!

Come on Arsenal! :)

  • Nick

    I’m so damn depressed. Watching us go from up 1-0 after a brilliant through ball to Theo and a great shot & recovery for a rebounded shot by Bendtner only to give up a goal 2 minutes later thanks to shit defending from Silvestre. After that it was just a complete failure to control the ball and Messi.

    If Barcelona didn’t have Messi I feel as though they aren’t anywhere near as good as we are.

    POsitives from the game were a great performance from Clichy, Vermaelen and Diaby. Everyone else to me just had an average game. I’m more than sure this performance has convinced Arsene to start spending.

  • Pissed off

    Arsenal – are we second to the grade A teams or just a B team. Having lost to Barca, Chelsea and man u I am tempted to say yes. But lets see what happens at the end of the season.

  • Nick

    @Pissedoff: Right now, IMO we are second to Grade A teams for 1 reason. We sold off quality players and didn’t replace them with the same level of player. We have some great players who lack experience, size & strength. We’re too easily pushed off the ball and our finishing is suffering due to lack of depth up front. And our man in goal is far too unreliable. We need to sure up the back 4 with some size & strength. Get a great goalie. Replace Vieira in the midfield and have a world class striker up front alongside RVP (and he needs to stay healthy!)

  • kodjo

    @pissed off

    i wouldnt say that we are second to grade A teams with the exception of barca even then i have arguments to counter that.

    with man u and chelsea we lost bcos of individual mistakes as opposed to a total whitewash.

    what wenger has to figure out is a way to maximize the players at his disposal and the fact that we cannot play the same style all the time. certain teams are bound to have more possession than us its what we do when we do not have the ball is what has counted against us..esp the barca game.

    my thougths are that we should have played both games on the counter and dropped back very deep into our half and not go round chasing the ball…reason we do not have 4 flamini type players in midfield who can run non-stop for 90 mins…

    so what game plan should be employed….play barca the way athletico madrid played them/or the russina team 2 banks of 4 players close to the last 3rd of our field and press them in that section…then break quickly on the counter!!! meaning our centre forward would have to do a donkey job pressing the 2 centre backs as soon as they cross the centre line…(B52 couldnt do that for 90 mins cos he is not that type of player-aguero and folan took turns on pressing the barca centre backs). and they had a shoot on sight policy!

    for me alarm bells started ringing when everton came to the emirates and pressed us high up the pitch and we cdnt cope with it. barca employed the same tactics. in the past kolo toure w’d by pass the that pressue by lobbing the ball off to adebayor into the corner’s of the pitch or off the last defender…that caused other teams to think twice about that tactic.

    so maybe for games such ydays wenger might dip into the transfer market for 2 water carriers mixed with the likes of cesc& diaby for balance.

    a striker willing to work his sock off as B52 is clearly not that type of striker. nothing wrong wwith him though…issue boils down to the tactical ploy and the teams that arsenal face.

    all in all there is hope for the future once we get our injured players sorted out plus 2 or 3 additions.

  • Kuka

    I think I will wait for the Spurs v Arsenal preview to resume active commenting. Barca did not expose Arsenal weaknesses. Barca just beat us and the mood they are in, they can beat anyone. Even Arsenal haters that I know for once had nothing to say against Arsenal, other than the fact that Barca were just too good. Do we need reinforcements? I do not know. First of all good goalies are made and not bought. Probably what we need to do is invest in Manone rather than fabianski. Bench Almunia more and more. I can see Gallas play with Verm for two more seasons, with Djirou as deputy. If Chamarch joins to partner Van Persie upfront, then we have two towering players. Simpson will be back and so will jay Thomas. Merida will be a year older and so will be Vela. Hopefully Arshavin will start showing how good he is.

    The world forgets that Barca’s strategy was to keep hold of players and allow them to play together consistently and for a long time. If you ask me, our goal should be to keep the current crop of players together. Off course like any other fan, I would like to see Torres or better still Messi at Arsenal, but I know that will not happen. But from the performance of this team, I would be proud to watch them play together next year. My fear is whether we shall be able to retain all of them? This year we have seen major improvements from Song, Diaby and B52. Next year we might just see a different Denilson and Eduardo etc. I have watched Barca for quite sometime now, and one key factor is that, they keep the core of the team together. They might make an addition of Henry and abramovich, but that is never to win them the league. The guys winning them leagues and trophies are guys who came through the system……

  • Nick

    @Kuka: It’s pretty easy and desirable to keep your team together then that team consists of quality like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol, Toure, etc. You wouldn’t let those players go. So them playing as a team for years comes out of the effects generated by them too, not just a desire to do it just because. Make no mistake, if Barca started losing on a consistent basis there would be players moving on.

    I think Arsenal do a great job already of having their core players together year to year. Especially if you look at those who’ve moved up from the youth academy & reserves. Looking at players like Wilshire, Ramsey, Merida, etc. who’ve been together for years you see why they look so comfortable together.

    It’s a stark contrast to teams like Real Madrid who just go out and spend and try to force them to be a team.

  • kodjo

    @ Nick & Kuka

    excellent perspective ….its true that its easier to keep players if the team is winning. as i said in my previuos comments there’s not a whole lot to do except get certaion type of players to complement the squad. currently i do not think we have for example the water carrier type except for Song who will defend like hell for 90 plus mins. clearly we need a few players with grit in the middle of the park and as Kuka pointed out if Chamakh joins all the better. cos he looks like a player who is willing to work his sock off for the team…

    with regards to players coming through the youth system i’m not sure if JET is ready may be on the fringes. merida i am not sure if he has signed the contract on offer. with jay simpson i’m not sure what wenger wants to do with him.

    issue is that players do not gain experience if you do not play them…so i guess fans have to be patient as it could take another year or 2 to realise the full potential of this current squad, give or take 1 or 2 additions….not forgetting that wenger had to rebuild the midfield in 2 years after the departures of flamini, gilberto & hleb, rosicky’s injuries.

    not to mention dubious refs, own goals for certain teams, other teams kicking us off the park with the tacit approval of the FA, the scheduling of our games before and after champions league games….

    there’s more to look forward to in the future

  • Pissed off

    One more thing folks. I had a man of God predict that Arsenal will win the league this season. This man rarely yearn bollocks – do any one reckon that the season has been like a written script waiting to happen. I personally don’t want to leave anyone’s hope hanging, lets leave this man of God’s prediction as a secret until it happens. ” Blessed are those who belief without seeing”

  • Kuka

    Amazing that Rooney made it for the United game after only 2 weeks. Is it that miracles still happen, the injury was not as bad as potrayed in the media or the guy is just made of still? Non of my business but I must say I admire the guts and wish we had a bit of that (lol)

  • Kuka

    *steel

  • kodjo

    rooney assists darren gibson to score in 3 mins

  • Sam

    Rooey magically overcomes injury, missing a single game.
    Mother fu@kers!
    And now they’re up ae goals inside 6 minutes.
    Bayern are simply bull crap.

  • Kuka

    @Sam: How quickly things change. United out

  • Kuka

    I would rather loose to Barca 4-1 than to Beryern on away goal. That must must hurt real baaaaaaad

  • jeffvip

    SAF is gonna blame again for the red card,btw, this is wat man utd player will do. round the referee to pursuit a yellow card. haha. KARMA. they deserve it

  • Kuka

    ….People say, AW is a terrible looser, and I probably agree. But I have watched SAF’s press conference after the game and I was like……”this guy is worse than AW”, or, they basically had the same teacher. First of all, he accuses “Germans”, which to be honest, Germans in Germany are extremely offended, because around the referee, there was no German, rather a French, Dutch guy and Gomes, who is technically, “not” German. Then he claims the sending off was due to pressure from the “Germans”, yet the ref had reached for his pockets even before Ribery ran across to him. Over the years, I have watched United players, mostly Rio, Keane in his days, surround referees demanding action etc etc. Robben’s goal was a wonder goal……At times you just need to take notice and bow down……….

    Am glad United do get a taste of their own medicine…..it must hurt. Earlier in the week he had commented on AW risking Fab and Gallas only to loose them for the season. Thinking he is wiser, he does the same with Rooney……and guess what, aggravates his injury again…Unlike AW who admits that he regrets risking Gallas, SAF, plays it down….

    ……..Its a real real real mean world….especially when it comes to bite us

  • Kuka

    do you guys think Nigel Neo-Cocker is beyond his best? Villa seem keen to offload him and I have always wondered if he might just be re-ignited at Arsenal. Once upon a time, AW admired him quite abit. I like his work rate. He can run for 90 min

  • Pissed off

    @ KUKA: I thought the guy was dead long ago, I don’t remember who Reo is or what his like.

  • devday

    @ Pissed off:
    @ Kuka:

    Agree with you on the whole SAF thing – I mean, how hypocritical is that? And how stero-typical too?

    Re: Reo Coker, no chance, he has completely gone backwards in terms of his game, wouldn’t be a great signing.

  • Yemi

    saw this on a website
    “Kroenke to sell St Louis Rams to fund Arsenal takeover”

    Is this a good move for arsenal?

  • Kuka

    @Yemi:
    I have done alittle bit of research on this Kroenke guy, and he does seem a guinine sports fan. Most importantly his family background oozes with sportsmen. In addition, he is a top Arsenal fan, and not a mere businessman. The impression I also I have is that internally Arsenal is quite a solid company and a take-over would not reck the stability of the club in any way. I hear all the directors share the same business principles and unless there is a massive change upstairs, the same culture will prevail. I guess that is why for some reason, take fears never grab-on when it comes to Arsenal FC

  • Kuka

    I guess what am saying is take-over or no take-over, you have to be double-thick skinned to distabilize Arsenal FC. So my opinion is that if he was to take over, it would be good for the club. If he doesn’t, it will also be good for the club. At least from
    where am standing…..

  • Nick

    SAF = worlds biggest hypocrite! LOL all day long that Man U got knocked out on away goals at home.

    So SAF thinks it’s typical German behavior that all the German players surrounded the ref when Rafael clearly dragged down Ribery and already had 1 yellow. But it’s OK for the Man U players to do it any time a Man U player is even sneezed on. He can manipulate the refs in every league game they play in but when they lose it’s the refs fault.