You read it right, Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona. And what a game…! For the neutral, it was a great game between two teams who play football the right way. For us, it was a nervous game, a heart in the mouth game and what a game!
The whole area was buzzing pre-match and the usual lot were everywhere, a massive turnout in the Tollington and a pint or two later a walk down to the stadium. All fans in good spirit and when I went to my seat, I was greeted by a nice red flag and another 55,000 flags were on the seats of all… As the players came out, the noise was resounding, and the flags were amazing.
Beautiful, wasn’t it?
Ahead of the game, there was a massive boost for all, some say it was a risk, but Samir Nasri was named in the starting XI. No-one thought he’d be fit, let alone start.
The starting line up was:
Eboue – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy
Wilshere – Song
Walcott – Cesc – Nasri
With a bench of Almunia, Gibbs, Squillaci, Denilson, Arshavin, Bendtner and Rosicky
For the first time in a while, against a big team, there was an air of confidence around the fans and the players – and we started the game with a swagger. And we created chances with the best one dropping to Van Persie who really should have hit the target. But it wasn’t too long until Barcelona got in it and started to control the game from midfield. With Villa and Messi dropping deep, their midfield was overloading our midfield and their left and right backs found a lot of width and we started to get exposed – Clichy and Eboue often allowing Alves and Maxwell in – and when Barcelona eventually went 1-0, it came down the left when Clichy played Villa onside and a Messi pass put the Spanish striker through.
The first half ended 1-0 to the visitors, and although we didn’t play that badly – the authority of Barcelona did shine through – their game seemed better than ours – positionally, and distributively. We seemed to allow them to pass and then close them down when they had the ball – for us, they did the opposite – they closed down the options and then closed down the player with the ball. It was tough.
The second half was different – we closed them down better, upped our work rate and also closed down their options, which allowed us to recover the ball better – and for me the stand out player of the second half was Jack Wilshere, who went further up the field and seemed to have an extra pair of eyes on him… and his vision and creativity made us tick… and suddenly, a game which looked out of our reach, looked very much like a game where would could take something from…
Arshavin and Bendtner came on for Walcott and Song (the latter walking on a yellow card tightrope, having been booked early on) and they changed the game. The equaliser came via good work from Arshavin who passed the ball back to Clichy who them lofted the ball into Van Persie’s path – who despite wide and at an acute angle, lashed it past the keeper – 1-1……..
And then five minutes later, under serious pressure from Messi, a great interception from Koscielny, a good spot from Bendtner to maintain possession, a first time pass from Wilshere to Cesc, who sprayed the ball out wide to Nasri, who slowed it down and cut it back……… Arshavin slots it home!!!
2-1 to the Arsenal and that’s how it finished – it was electric. What a night… it’s only half the job done, but done well…
Arsene spoke about the game and said:
I am highly delighted because it was a special football match. The game promised a lot and absolutely fulfilled the promises between two exceptional football teams who always try to play. We were not only strong on the physical side but on the mental side, we kept resilient. We took advantage of one special piece of skill from Van Persie and the goal for the second was after some good build-up play. It was a special night. When we suffered, the fans were still very positive.
And he also highlighted the job to do over there:
Tonight’s result gives us a chance to go to Barcelona with belief. We know it will be a very difficult game but we will prepare well. We will be highly focused and we go to win our game. It is a special lift for my team. Our players have shown exceptional strength tonight and togetherness. This will enforce that.
Enjoy the result boys and girls… it certainly was a great European night at the Emirates.