Why Arsenal can take heart from Barca defeat

March 10, 2011 by   Filed under: Arsenal FC, Champions League

Barcelona are the best team in the world. We know this because we are told often enough by those in the know.

Some go one further. For me, they are the best team ever Graeme Souness cooed in the post-match fall-out following Arsenals 3-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Tuesday.

Before anything else, something needs to be addressed. Barcelona deserve their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and out-played Arsenal during the second leg.

The first game was one of contrast  the team from Catalonians gentle caress opposition with Arsenal’s bloodied self-belief, this game sadly offered no such juxtaposition to raise the intrigue and heart rates, at least from an Arsenal point of view.

If styles make boxing fights then this one was set up as a classic that never materialised. Endless column inches dedicated to Robin Van Persie’s ludicrous sending off detract from the real issues that emerged from the game Arsenal simply never got going.

That was less down to their own limitations than the success of the Barcelona formula. Dani Alves and Adriano Correia spent more time in Arsenal’s half than any full backs have the right to, meaning both Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky were bound by their defensive responsibilities more than their attacking intents. Without the threat of a counterattack, both were given licence to roam as they wished.

Alves has had the 4th most touches in the opposition half so far in La Liga this season, making a mockery of his positions title.

And devoid of Theo Walcott, and with the shadow of Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie on the pitch as they continued to struggle with injury, Arsenal were shorn of the weapon that would have been so valuable against a team that applies constant pressure. It worked well in the first leg, so why not at the Nou Camp?

Messi, Iniesta and Xavi offered little else other than expected from a team who create angles and movement like no others are able to. It was hypnotising at times as Wenger’s men spirit slowly then more quickly as Van Persie departed – evaporated into the night sky. Betting forum threads wove a pattern as pretty as the home sides passing, alight with praise for a team looking likely to put as many as they wished past another that lives in their shadow.

Despite this, Arsenal still could have won the tie. If Nicklas Bendtner’s first touch from a Jack Wilshere pass had been better, then the mood which engulfs the club currently would have had an all-together different tone. How were Arsenal, who by rights should have been out of contention with ten men against eleven who delight in beautiful torture, allowed to get within a couple of inches of knocking Barcelona out of a competition they covet so much?

The Barcelona model is flawed, and they know it. There 28 chances across both legs resulted in four goals, one of which was a penalty. Even if there Plan A is the most mesmeric strategy in world football, it is just that, a plan A, and it comes without backup. Arsenal were direct at home and racked up two goals in succession, while in Spain their first real foray into opposition territory resulted in an own goal. For once it is Barca who should take note.

Little over 18 months ago, the Catalan club did something strange. They signed a big man up top. A talented big man of course, but a target man for, whisper it quietly, the long ball. The Zlatan Ibrahimovic experiment failed eventually; the Swede was farmed out to AC Milan on loan as Barca proved to be unable to deviate from the groove that has been bored into their psyche, but his signature alone shows their vulnerability.

It is a type of snobbery particular to football that means a club willing to score from a different method  in cricket, for example, Ali Cook is praised as one of England’s finest batsman for his dogged style which emphasises application over ability, while Paul Collingwood is revered for making the most of his talent, but not in football. There is only one way to skin a cat, apparently.

Arsenal now face a defining point in their season. For better or worse, they now play Manchester united at Old Trafford in another different competition with the knowledge of their trophy-less run blurring the lines between a game they must win and why they must win it. Bonus betting may adjudge the Arsenal spirit too broken after two demoralising defeats to set themselves up for another fall again, but this side is made of something more solid than years gone by. Wenger hailed his side as maturing earlier in the season, now we will see if his assertion holds up to the closest of inspections.

But take heart, Arsenal, you were inches away from doing what only a handful of teams have done before. Barcelona are not invincible, and Arsene Wenger knows it.


One Comment on "Why Arsenal can take heart from Barca defeat"

  1. eve on Thu, 10th Mar 2011 8:48 pm 

    the guys must not let the defeat to barca get to them, they need to put all their focus on saturdays game against manure. they must play their hearts out, be strong, determined and be proud they are playing for THE ARSENAL the best football team in the world.

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