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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2

The game that had been on everyone`s lips for the past ten days had finally arrived. The shadow of the match loomed large over league encounters with West Ham and Birmingham City and now I felt as though I could finally start thinking about it and talking about it. Yesterday morning at work, I had to preside over an open day and be available for questions and discussion. My colleagues, knowing me as they do, were for the most part not conversing with me about training and development or talent management. They were interested in talking about talent, but then I`m not really paid to talk about Lionel Messi, Xavi or Cesc Fabregas. The tickets for the away leg had arrived during my weekend absconscion to Birmingham and eight of the nine of us that were travelling together began to talk about the trip with enthused relish, aware that we were the envy of Europe, dining on the top table of football`s finest delicatessen.

As the pre match team news filtered through in the pub I grew concerned, the news that Gallas and Fabregas were both starting did not bode well for me. I always felt Gallas` inclusion in the squad was an insurance policy in case Cesc couldn`t make it and we needed another leader. With Arshavin and Nasri also carrying knocks, I didn`t feel we could afford to carry that many unfit players against a side of this quality. Let`s just say my faith in Arsenal`s medical department in assessing all of their levels of fitness is about as strong as wet cardboard. The pre match prose promised pretty football and plenty of goals; the match ball was to be flown down my hand picked angels as the teams emerged from the tunnel in virginal white vestments flanked by a hundred white turtle doves. In his last ever professional match for Boca Juniors, Maradona gave a heart rending speech, with tears in his eyes and the microphone in hand, he thrust the ball to the sky and told his adoring public, "No matter what any individual does or has done, the ball is always clean." Football was about to be purged for its sins.

But there was only one team in the mood to caress the ball in the opening stages. Guardiola confidently informed the press that Barcelona`s main objective was an away goal and they wasted no time at all in looking for it. Frankly the way Barcelona played in the first half an hour was pure artistry and you`ll notice that there was not an ounce of begrudging in Wenger`s pre match assessment of his opponents. I have to be frank, I almost enjoyed it. The way they moved the ball was akin to watching a slightly elongated five a side game, one touch, every player supremely assured on the ball, always a man to spare. Arsenal were chasing luminous yellow shadows and watching life from the other side of the fence as they were being bossed in possession. After just two minutes, Barca forced a corner, which Xavi swung in and Busquets forced a low diving save from Almunia. It was relentless, Messi, not deployed on the right as we had thought, but given a more central berth in Iniesta`s absence, dipped and swerved his body past two players from the left before unleashing a low shot which Almunia again beat out. The Gunners were thoroughly pinned back to the ropes, absorbing uppercut after uppercut, Pedro`s clever reverse ball in the area found Ibrahimovic with the goal in sight but Almunia spread himself to make another terrific stop.

At this point, Andrey Arshavin had to be removed from the action owing to a calf injury. That he was replaced by Eboue was instructive, he had more attacking options available, I think secretly, Wenger might have even been glad his hand had been forced into making that switch. That Arshavin was deployed on the right suggests the manager fully expected Messi to line up on the right for Barcelona. Arsenal briefly managed to wrest the ball away from Barcelona for just about long enough to create an opportunity of their own. Bendtner moved the ball to Nasri on the left and he curled an effort just wide of the far post. But the Gunners did identify a slight chink in Barcelona`s impressive armour in the joy Bendtner got over Carles Puyol in the air. Nasri sent over a left wing cross which confused Puyol and Busquets and Bendtner drove a shot against the post, though the linesman`s flag would have declared the goal erroneous anyway. Then came something of an Ian Wright moment circa 1994 when Fabregas was given a caution which results in suspension from the second leg. The rage is somewhat diluted this morning given that Cesc would not have been fit anyway, but the booking, in keeping with the referee`s display was an utter disgrace. Frankly, Barca were imperious enough without the referee`s ridiculous over officiousness any time a Barca player hit the deck. The Catalonian`s may have benefited from some dodgy refereeing at Stamford Bridge last season, but last night they really didn`t need it. At the half time whistle, the referee was roundly heckled and rightly so. Meanwhile, the supporters and the players must have been mulling over quite how we were still in the tie.

Having reached something of a check point at half time, twenty five seconds into the second half, Barca had their much deserved goal. Carles Puyol clipped a long pass into a sizeable gap between Vermaelen and Clichy, leaving Zlatan Ibrahimovic free to run onto the pass. Almunia made an error of judgement as he abdicated his area leaving Ibrahimovic to execute a delightful clip over the stranded keeper. Arsenal were stunned but kept on regardless, Gael Clichy stormed down the left and clipped an excellent cross into the box, Bendtner met it with a forceful header which Valdes beat out. Barcelona instantly countered and with Clichy stranded up field, Dani Alves motored metronomically down the right hand side and slung a pinpoint cross of his own into Xavi who headed the ball wide when he ought to have done better. But Barca had soon seemingly put the tie out of sight, in the build up, Guardiola actually had cause to utterly lose his rag with Dani Alves for a piece of showboating which had Pep on his feet and raging incandescently. Xavi played another pass into the channel, showing up Song and Vermaelen`s understandable lack of chemistry and Ibrahimovic smashed the ball into the roof of the net. The goal resembled Batistuta`s at Wembley a little over ten years ago. It`s ramifications felt much the same. Arsenal had been pinned to the ropes for much of the game, now they were scrawling on the canvas, their eyes half closed and their lip swollen and bloodied.

Wenger took one last throw of the dice, like a shirtless man on a Vegas roulette table. He threw Walcott on for Sagna. It reaped instant results. Bendtner, one of the few Arsenal players who did not have the look of a rabbit in the headlights, finally had an outlet and he used it to devastating effect. Nasri played the ball into the big Dane with his back to goal and Bendtner slipped the ball to the onrushing Walcott, who had already outstripped Maxwell for pace sixty seconds earlier. Theo guided the ball under the arm of Victor Valdes and into the net for a glimmer of a lifeline. Arsenal`s penchant for finishing games strongly in the humdrum Premiership stood them in good stead to crank up some pressure on weary Barcelona. Though Messi`s sojourn around Alex Song and into the Arsenal area nearly reaped a third goal but for a strong stop by Almunia. But with five minutes remaining, an even bigger lifeline was slung down the mountain face.

Walcott sent in a right wing cross which Bendtner showed great presence of mind to nod down to Fabregas in the six yard box. Puyol appeared to obstruct him and the referee had set a tone where every fall to the ground was a foul so a penalty was duly awarded along with a supplementary red card for the Barca captain. Fabregas stepped up to smash the penalty down the middle against his boyhood club. As he ran to retrieve the ball he pulled up in agony, barely able to walk. Fabregas spent the rest of the game hobbling as a passenger. One can only but admire his leadership in taking the pitch in that state. A lot of players might have started to worry about their World Cup fate and retired, but Cesc hobbled on. He symbolised the character in our fight back, like Rocky Balboa, it seems no matter how much of a beating this Arsenal side take, they keep dragging themselves up off the canvas and coming back for more. But since Cesc fears he may have broken his leg, you have to again question the competency of our medical department in allowing him to continue. There`s little doubt we were bossed and outclassed for large swathes of the match by a superb side. But our resilience in refusing to die is gutsy and admirable. Whatever else happens this season, this team have earned our respect, there`s steel in them there guts. We still face an uphill task in the Nou Camp, but staring at the mountain top from the bottom is a more enviable position than being six feet under the ground as we were with twenty minutes of the match remaining. Walcott`s pace and Bendtner`s aerial prowess revealed clinks in Barca`s armour and we would do well to show confidence in those traits in a week`s time. Me? I`m just glad that the trip to Barcelona is again more than just a tourist excursion. It`s been long debated which song Arsenal should emerge to for home games. This season, it appears Chumbawumba`s 'Tubthumping` might be the most appropriate. The refrain, "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you`re not ever gonna keep me down" is coming to characterise this team.LD.

1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA (14.Walcott `66), 10.GALLAS (15.Denilson `45), 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 2.DIABY, 4.FABREGAS©, 23.ARSHAVIN (27.Eboue `27), 8.NASRI, 52.BENDTNER. Unused: 7.Rosicky, 9.Eduardo, 21.Fabianski, 31.Campbell.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday April 1 2010

Time: 11:00AM

Your Comments

"Wenger took one last throw of the dice, like a shirtless man on a Vegas roulette table.." Hilarious image. Wenger has never been lauded for his tactical nous but I do feel that with every passing year in England, AW has been adding to tactical armoury. He has a much better feel for substitutions now than before. About the issue of AW playing Gallas and Cesc, it sure was a gamble that on another night could have paid off in Gallas's case. In the case of Cesc, thank god he played. Though not on top of his game his contribution towards the second goal was immense. Almunia deserves praise for keeping us in the game through four top drawer saves from Xavi, Ibra, Busquets and Messi. Bendtner was tireless and excellent in the air with two assists.
Couldn't believe Barca's work rate, was unreal - they were always gonna tire towards the end of the game but I thought we would as well, given that we had eff all of the ball in the first 45. Thought it was like Ali v Terrel "Say my name! what's my name b1tch!" for the first 60 odd mins, they were toying with us & not bothering to knock us out. Turns out it was more like a Rope a Dope on our part ;-)
Arsene called the game a possible work of art, Barca rolled up with an Easel and paints and we scribbled on the wall with Crayons! Fair play to us for keeping the tie alive but if we get through this tie it will be the biggest performance from any Arsenal team since Anfield 89.
Barca we unreal in that first half, I've never seen anything like it. As frustrated as I was at the time, we have to give credit to the team fo going in 0-0. It was one of the more extrdinary games I've ever seen, and was using the same "Rocky Balboa" analogy myself watching Cesc limp round the pitch. Barcelona may have a more talented team, but the desire shown by our boys to not only grind out a result, but to do it without deviating from proper football is nothing short of a miricle. People might say we're lucky this morning, but I'm not having that, football is a team game, and they could not beat our keeper in the first half, and we fully deserve everything we got out of the game.
Guardiola has said its the best 45 minutes they have played since he has been in charge.
In some ways Wengers starting team selection reflected the same fear of Barca's reputation as the team itself showed in the first 20 minutes or so. It would have been a big decision to leave Gallas, Arshavin and possibly Fabregas out - especially given the stick received when leaving Arshavin out against Chelsea last season - but he needed to have taken that risk. You can't get criticised if you have the big names in even if they are not fully fit but it is a risk that Wenger should have been brave enough to take. The 2 Barca goals were from almost identical positions in almost identical situations. The first Almunia came for, got lobbed and looked a tad foolish, the 2nd he remained close to his line while the ball smashed past him and everyone shrugged 'not much you can do about that'. The lesson for Almunia would be don't take decisions that might make you look silly even if the outcome is probably going to be the same.
Amos the strikes were from the same sides of the box granted, but the second was closer to goal, if Manwell had've stayed on his line for the first one he wouldn't have been beaten, no way.
If Almunia had stayed on his line for the first one I'm not sure Ibrahimovic would have even had a shot (did he have support?) maybe hook it back across the box, because he is simply not scoring from there. The only way he does if the keeper comes off his line and hesitates. That said, Almunia was truly awesome last night.
From Wenger's post match interview it sounded like he did want Cesc to come off but he just walked back onto the pitch by himself. Admirable yet possibly lamentable depending on the extent of his injury.
I think you'll find he took both goals from almost exactly the same distance from goal and pretty well the same position - there was very little in it. Look at the grass markings for verification.
It's maybe a slightly tighter angle on the first one but staying on the line gave Ibrahimovic time to take a touch on the second. Not a straightforward call either way.
for the second goal, Almunia was almost down on one knee before Ibra hit it and plus he should have covered the near post better. he gave Ibra a lot of space to go for the near post. Almunia did some amazing things last night, but it's these kind of things that always happen with him..
They gave you boys a lesson! They must be gutted to have not won that game by at least 4 goals, thank your much maligned goalie for that one.
The subs won it, but I dont think Theo should start next week. Even though Denilson and Eboue clearly should.
Guardiola? He should know by now that a game of football last 90 minutes, not 45 or even 60. We thoroughly deserved the draw. In fact after 2-2, I thought'd we'd nick it. I hope we make them pay for their blatant disregard of our EPL-forged grit come Tuesday night. The time for adulation and over-respect is over. Barca landed a lot of punches and had us rocking for a while. But we're still standing on our feet. Now it's our turn to show them who WE are. I'll wager that if Arsenal get THEM on the ropes, they'll not come back off them.
No, HY. We have THEM a lesson. The rule book says a football match lasts 90 minutes plus time added on. I can't wait until Tuesday.
You're quite right HY, in fact, my friend and I speculated on our way out how we'd be feeling if we were Barca fans. But there again, we're often told pretty passing and possession doesn't count for anything if you don't kill a game off!
Little Dutch
Amos i can't find the grass markings anywhere? Okay the distance may've been the same but the angle most definitely wasn't, and that's with my bespectaled eye last night. Have you got a link?
Julie what the hell are you on about.
The cutting pattern on the grass is the marking I was referring to. As I understand it we can't leave links to replays here but ask any Arsenalist.
No not that the guardian chalkboard thing that's done for prem games...
I think replays are fine Amos .... just not live footy.
I didn't know that there is one for CL games but how does that help?
It'll display exactly where the shots were taken, no?
Oh OK - take a look at The angle is bit tighter on the first one which may or may not have been significant but essentially Almunia has the same decision to make in both situations. Unfortunately Ibrahimovic is just a little too good in that position. Is Almunia is being judged on criteria that would be applied as forensically to other keepers?
The chalkboards aren't exact by any imagination it would be unreliable to make any definite claims for angles on those. There is no need anyway (stats never tell the whole story!) just take a look at the replays and you can see there is no difference in distance but the angle is probably a little tighter on the first. In my view not enough to have made Ibrahimovic's choices and the potential outcome, with any certainty, that different whatever choice Almunia made in either case.
The difference is Amos that Ibrahimovic HAD to shoot for the first goal, the ball was bouncing away from him, it was shoot or nothing. From a slightly wider angle and the ball was high, no way could he have executed the same shot as the second goal, infact the ball was so high and he was stretching so much it would have been difficult to get any real power on it, the second goal he had the ball at his feet and was under complete control so he could smash it as hard as he wanted. If Almunia would have stayed on his line for the first one, barring a balls up of Birmingham proportions, there is no way he could have scored. The second one was sheer power. no chance.
Was about to ask about the angle of the ball and whether it was bouncing or not - can't see em at work unfortunately.
Am speechless with all these mersmerising passes
Blunt G
I think if Almunia doesn't come for the first one Ibrahimovic has time to take a touch and then get a shot away. The point is that there are a number of variables in both situations. If Almunia comes for the second maybe he has to take the shot quicker than he would've wished. There aren't any certainties in either situation whatever decision Almunia makes. The same keeping doubts wouldn't exist to the same degree in exactly the same situations if it were Reina, Cech or VDS - the assumption would be that Ibrahimovic is just quite good at what he does.
Whilst I accept Barcelona’s quality, I think we were overawed last night and did not play anything like we can. Almunia had a great first half with some exceptional saves but returned to type in the second. Cesc was injured, Song was poor and Diaby, well, the less said about his performance the better. Oddly enough, the return leg may well prove to be easier for us because (now) we have nothing to lose and Barca will feel that the job is virtually done, two away goals and a performance that showed Arsenal to be a lesser team that the hype had them believe. With Nasri standing in for Cesc, Barcelona need to be on their mettle in the Camp Nou otherwise we might just nick it.
Sir Henry
Too true LD. They might be arguably the best team ever but they did lost 1-0 at home to Rubin Kazan this season. You do have a chance although youl need another bucketload of luck and a goalkeeper doing another Iker Casillas impression....And Xavi to get injured in the pre match warm up. I think hes my favourite player of all time.
Julie dear the only lesson taught last night was by Xavi Hernandez on Abou Diaby
Whatever you want to say about the ref,you were very lucky he didn't give a penalty for the foul on Messi when it was more clear cut than the foul on Fabregas by Puyol.
Xavi and Busqets were awesome. Between the two of them they weren't too far short of the total number of passes we managed as a team. Our midfield is going to have to hold the ball a lot better than we did for the first 20 minutes or so. Denilson helps in that department and Rosicky will too - Diaby could be better a little further forward. It's Barca's to lose but we can still make a game of it.
I sat there blinking in the first half at the speed of Bar
Tony Rocky Horror
I thought the ref did ok. We showed some figures a few weeks back that yellow and red cards are issued far more readily in the European leagues. Inevitably he got some decisions wrong, Cesc's challenge was clean and didn't deserve a yellow card, but most he got right and punished the tackles that warranted it though they wouldn't have been punished in the EPL. Cesc's penalty was nailed on when looked at properly and very well spotted by the official.
TRH, did the boss come in?
Sir Henry
We are always hearing about how the premier league is the best in the world because it's so quick. And yet Barcelona passed the ball around Arsenal (one of the quickest, most fluent teams in the premier league) as if they were training cones in the first half. Another Bull***** myth coming to you from Murdoch headquaters.
Tony Rocky Horror
Barcelona are just like any La Liga side by the way they have mastered the “shot by a sniper” collapse after they feel contact from the opposition. If TV’s challenge the other day was a penalty and a sending off, then Cesc’s last night was a stone-waller!
Sir Henry
Sir Henry.....LOL!!
Tony Rocky Horror
The resilience of this team continues to amaze me. Fighting back in the EPL after being battered by Man U & Chelsea, now getting off the canvas to give themselves a fighting-chance against Barca after being on the receiving end of the some of the best attacking football I've ever seen is pretty impressive. Just wonder whether Arsene now regrets sending Jack Wilshere out on loan to Bolton.
Some interesting perspectives from the Spanish media:
HY: "Julie dear the only lesson taught last night was by Xavi Hernandez on Abou Diaby" -- have to agree with HY, Xavi was sublime, he usually is. I'm just glad Iniesta wasn't out there with him, because then my friends it would've been very ugly for us.
Coxinthebox: IT WAS A PENALTY: . Cesc's eyes are COMPLETELY on the ball.
He didn't say it wasn't? chill.... Clichy was lucky though on replays it shows that it WAS A PENALTY as well.
Oh really? What was the final scoreline- tell me THAT? Yes, I think it is more than fair to say we taught them a lesson in the last 20 minutes. I don't care what team you are, if you think the game is over in 60 minutes, you need to watch it. Yes, they had a great first half. What was the scoreline at HT? 0-0. Yes, they sucker-punched us inside 20 minutes but what was the scoreline at the final whistle. I should think there would be a little bit more criticism of Barca for failing to get the win and a bit more credit for Arsenal for refusing to be beaten. We gave them way too much respect from the off.
Don't forget the stone cold penalty Barca were denied by the ref! He was horrendous!
I hate to be negative, I agree with much of the positives everyone's been raving about. But for me the most shocking thing yesterday was how (apparently) unprepared we were against them. It's like Arsene just tells his players to go out there and play their game with no tactical instructions at all, that's what it looked like. Ok, he got it right with his tactic of adding speed to a tiring Barca side but that's hardly genius. Yesterday the Guardian published an article "How to Beat Barca", asking 3 coaches who did just that recently (the Sevilla and Atl. Madrid coaches, and I forget who else). It was an excellent article because it gave you a great insight into the tactical ideas coaches have to deal with such a good side. Now those coaches are hardly the world's best. I saw those Barca defeats (Sevilla and Atl. Madrid's victories over Barca occurred this year) and the managers' tactics were spot-on, well thought out, precise, and the players had clear instructions and carried them to the letter in disciplined fashion. I saw no evidence of any of that yesterday, not a whiff of Arsene having thought out any kind of plan with instructions to tell his players to "do this and this." It was fkg embarrassing.
Amos how can you say the Chalkboards software isn't accurate? Of course it is! What would be the point of creating software like that that showed every pass if it was only half-accurate? Ridiculous call there mate! You're going to be telling me that Wikipedia isn't accurate next!!! ;-)
Jaelle i totally agree with you, and to me it screams of pure arrogance on Wenger's part because he thinks that perfect attacking football will win any given match. Against a team like Barca it is all very well saying "play your game" to the players, but our game is keeping the ball, so what the fk do we do when they have it?! Cue total panic...
Jaelle that's his style though, he's never changed. Always told players to go out and play their games and not worry about the opposition, concentrate on ourselves, Keown was saying as much yesterday.
shewore that's fine for lesser teams when you are going to have 60%+ possession, but against a team who are going to dominate possession against you it is SUICIDE! I heard the players had to ask Wenger for more tactical work in the summer, how crazy is that?!
Jaelle - I completely agree with you. Arsene does the same with Man Utd and Chelsea and comes up a cropper. I know there are positives to take but it was truly stomach-churning to see us outclassed like that, they honestly looked light years ahead of us. If anything positive is to come of this, it's just that maybe Arsene -and the players - realise just how far they have to go. Drawing Barca and being outplayed like that might just be the best thing that happened to this team.
And totallly agree that had Iniesta been on the pitch, it would have been a proper thrashing. Xavi is just unbelievably good. Spain have got one helluva team.
The Guardian chalkboards are shown on a small screen which approximates the starting and end position of a pass or shot. The marker showing the position on those chalkboards would occupy an area of some 15 to 20 feet or more to scale. The question shouldn't be why am I claiming it isn't accurate enough to tell you the position a shot was taken from it's why you think it would be. It's much easier, when available, to use the benefit of a replay and your own eyes to to judge for yourself.
"Drawing Barca and being outplayed like that might just be the best thing that happened to this team. " -- that's exactly what I've been thinking, Vin. It's one thing being outclassed by Utd and Chelsea but by a team that plays our own game on a far higher level is another thing altogether. Hard lesson to learn, hopefully that lesson will yield results at the Camp Nou.
Disagree, we haven't learned from the football lessons Chelsea & Utd have taught us over the last few seasons, can't see us learning now.
Amos I would explain myself further but I think it might be difficult to get through to you given that, according to you, "the ref did ok"
footy lasts 90 minutes not 45.. lets focus on wolves rite now.. nuff said
shady gunna
Did well to get back level, but last night cost you the league.
hav u guys noticed arshavin's recent behavior? seems like a talkative primadonna who gives up easily.. limly gave up last nite and has now ruled himself out for 3 weeks! well i say - good riddance! exact opposite of cesc
shady gunna
Aha, now I remember, the third coach was the guy at Rubin Kazan! Fantastic article if you like this kind of thing (tactics), loved the quotes from all 3 coaches:
shewore, that thought had occurred to me but I live in hope...
Wouldn't be surprised too much if Arsh was the next first teamer to leave us.
So having a different opinion about the ref's performance means that my view on the benefit of the chalkboard has to be wrong. That makes a lot of sense. :)
What's going on with Arshavin? I thought after his goals against scouse that he was going to be the player of the season...
Tony Rocky Horror
Good entertainment for the neutrals.
Good call on the song LD. You have to admire the fighting spirit that this team shows, at its best when the chips are down. Whatever else happens, there is no shame in losing out to Barca (if we prevent a humiliating scoreline at the Nou Camp ie).
Watching it again and again on Sky+ their is no way he could of taken a touch before pulling of a shot. Its ok to admit that Almunia made a mistake, not everyone has to be saved. Tight angle with the ball boincing away and a covering defender, he should of stayed on his line. Still too much of a liability for me although he was excellent in the first half
shewore, are you telling me I wasted money on my AA23 jersey! Yea but his attitude has been stinking recently..much like Ade's at this time - last year.
Sajit, AA's attitude though not 100% spot on off late has been around 1000% better than Ade's attitude same time last year.
Totally agree, delta - AA deserves some criticism but nothing like Ade.
Does anyone else our Captain will be heading off to Catalonia in summer? Not a ******** chance!
Delta, & jaelle.. of course he's not done any off-pitch nonsense but his work ethic has dropped (or was it always the same ,.. just that we over looked that in the past? )
What you need to ask yourselves is why has his attitude changed,for me it is pretty clear that he isn't a winger because he clearly doesn't have the stamina to play there and clearly hates defending and you get to do a lot of that playing there as well. Also a lot of people have said that arshavin seems to be too relaxed during games and i actually think it must be down to him playing on the wing where he must feel bored at times as he doesn't maybe see enough of the ball and ends up not playing as well as he could or should. Another thing you should understand is that andrey has played most of his career in russia and has never had to track back like he has been told to do with arsenal,the fact that he doesn't seem like the most naturally fit player also doesn't help his cause and in turn arsenal,so maybe this is his way of saying to arsene you know what play me down the middle because it is pretty clear whenever he comes down the middle arsenal look much better. Cesc has been superb but i think sometimes arsene should have played him with song or denilson in the middle and let arshavin play as a second striker of even stuck with andrey as a striker because he can do so much more than bendtner in that position. You don't see hiddink play him on the wings why because they know he is much more effective in a free role,look at messi for barca he is now an attacking mid because they know he is wasted on the wings doing too much defensive work but messi is 21 and if andrey was his age maybe he would be able to play there with much more energy but he is 29 very soon as at that age + his small stamina endurance is certainly not helping him be the player you want him to be on the wings. I don't want to say this but i could see him leave because of this and maybe end up at man cityor somewhere abroad to replace ireland and play in a formation that would play to his strength and not have him exhausted and not be able to turn the game in your favour.
Arshavin's been like that since he got here if you've actually watched him. The difference is now, the novelty's worn off and he's not the shiny £15m player he was this time last year sopeople criticise himout of boredom. Despite the fact he was injured people will still have a pop. I think some people are being over critical, show me a team in earth better than Barca, because I'd love to watch them. Ilove how our fans think we're awful yet they rage because the best side of our generation dominated the first half. Make your minds up.
Little Dutch
LD - It's not the fact that they dominated, it's the fact we looked so very week in possesion. Our whole viewpoint was to play to OUR strengths which is our passing game and we did not at all. You couldn't count on 2 hands how many times Diaby gave the ball away needlesly in that game. Some of Eboue's passes went completly astray after he came on. We can pass well, and in a game against a team like Barca we need to make the most of our possesion instead of giving it away pointlessly to a team that WILL and WERE completely making the most of there possesion.
But is it not the fact that they didn't allow us to do that? As shewore alluded, Barca's work rate off the ball was incredible and that's a side of their game that isn't credited. They surprised us tactically with howthey shaped up with Messi in the middle. I think sometimes you just have to acknowledge who the better side are and this Barca side could godown as one of the best club sides in the history of the game. It's no shame being outclassed by them frankly, even if we have everyone fit, they are a better side with better players, simple as that. Every other club on earth would have to say the same thing right now. I wasn't angry with how we played at all, I was watching Barca and even in my amateur football manager brain, I couldn't even flatter myself by saying "the way we should stop them is....." because I don't see how any side could have lived with them in the first hour.
Little Dutch
I'm not saying they weren't the better team, they are a better team and i'm well aware. What i am aware of is we didn't play our best game at all. We had to sit and watch them play but in the first half why couldn't we string 2 simple passes together? There play was unbelievable and against any other team it'd be a pleasure to watch but i know Arsenal are better then they played in that game.
I agree with LD's comments re Barca simply being better than us and better than anyone else -- I just can't see them totally dominating Chelsea they way they dominated us.
Does not help when you are playing with injured players and have so many others out.
Sir Henry I tips me lid, I feel moving Nasri deeper will be a match winner. The second leg still has 90 mins or more to run, and the fat Lady has not even selected her clothes. Although I too sat shell shocked by Baca I too thought we were overawed by them. We can and I know we will put in a far better performance. Amos can we cancel Jack's contract with Bolton? And like Julie applaud them for their fighting spirit.
Found the answer to my own question in case anyone else is interested check out The only way would be if the manager retires, and there is no chance of that.
All credit to the players for the way that they fought back but I agree with those that are mentioning the lack of attention paid to stopping the opposition. When you are playing somone as good as Barca attention has to be paid to some extent to what they can do. Cesc was always ten yards too far up the pitch and this does not help win the early possession in the midfield area. As others have said you get away with that against lesser opposition but not against the really top sides. I thought Barca's fast pressing was as impressive as their passing. One final thought were we not here last year outplayed in the first leg, good saves from Almunia, still got a chance in the second leg etc..... grouville gooner
Sorry to see you get even more injuries at this time. You did well to get back into the tie but what a big ask you now have. Will still be rooting for you tho so good luck.
SFC Forever
jaelle, i agree with your comment about Barca not dominating Chelski as markedly in their match last season but they did dominate them even at Stamford Bridge for most of the match. Essien's goal was against the run of play. Chelsea's strategy was to neutralise Barca's passing game by harrasing them off the ball and not giving them any time to pick a pass. We as you have mentioned earlier were obsessed with playing our own brand of football against Barca. I would say we learnt a bit from our mistake in the second half.

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