Messi shoots down the Gunners
Remember Wenger talking about Arsenal’s mental strength as our last refuge? It never showed up as we capitulated to Barca. Remember Theo Walcott and his pre match bombast. The winger and the ball rarely acquainted themselves at the Camp Nou. Remember Emmanuel Petit saying “I’ve never seen them outplayed like that before” after the first leg. Well, that was just a warm up.
In truth, we do not have to go to Davy Jones locker to unearth a reason. The cold splash of reality is we were a collection of players of varying and motley talent thrown together with just a thread of composure playing against a well oiled system. A system that threw up tentacles around the ball and held onto it in a stifling display of possession. A system that danced a breathtaking waltz as Arsenal tried breaking into it country cousin style. A system for all its big name talent did the blue collar work reminiscent of an English club. A system that is built on a time honoured tradition of the cantera, of Catalan pride, of blood brothers. We have nothing remotely like it and the one player we have, they want too.
What we had was a rorschach- a sea of blue and gray that rapidly compressed and expanded as the Barca players immediately crowded an Arsenal player when he did get hold of the ball forcing him off and began a wave of rolling possession that crashed repeatedly on the shores of Arsenal’s goal through Leo Messi who was due again for a big game. This time he got four. Yes, if Argentina does not win the World Cup then it really is Diego Maradona’s fault. And Mikel Silvestre did get the assist on that equalizer.
Yet, we come back to the question. Would you want Nicklas Bendtner as your ballroom partner? Heavy footed and leaden headed. Abou Diaby sends in a perfect entry pass and the Danish striker makes a meal of it as his feet get tangle up. Clichy lays the only perfect cross of the game and Bendtner with the whole goal at disposal heads the ball into the post. Saved by an offside flag. It was a wincing display. These were the opportunities that one should have buried given our lack of possession. One more goal would have gotten our tails up.
Even Arsenal’s only goal was a touch and go affair with an empty goal Bendtner hit his shot into Valdes but the ball fortuitously rebounded back for a second attempt.
Arsenal’s game plan also called for Bendtner taking on the underutilized Rafa Marquez and Gabriel Milito through service provided from the flanks but for that one exception, the crosses from Clichy and Sagna never arrived. The Barca chokehold also meant that Bendtner got pushed back deeper into ball retrieval duty. Rarely was he in position.
The other was Theo using his blistering speed but again except for the first goal, he was shackled quite effectively by Abidal and Busquets and later Maxwell. One can also fault him for not trying much harder to break free. He was a non-entity in the second half.
Tomas Rosicky had a terrible match. His usual assured touch deserted him and he muffed a clear goalscoring opportunity that could have brought Arsenal back. Samir Nasri’s role was not quite clear, he played a very high line almost as second striker which meant less creation. As holding midfielder, Diaby showed a couple of nice touches – his pass set Walcott racing upfield for Bendtner’s goal but he was guilty of the wrong choice a few minutes later as he sought out Bendtner and not Walcott. He was however no Song in his defensive capabilities. Tackling tentatively and easily dispossessed. He did little to disrupt Barca’s game. Clearly there was little composure in midfield and in attack.
Silvestre provided Messi a nice clean pass for the first goal. Other than that he was not the complete disaster. A case of marking Messi better could be made for his second and fourth goals but the little Argentinian was at his mercurial best. Leaving a swath of scrambling defenders in his wake. In general, the defense under great pressure played quite cohesively. Almunia had his nervous moments but he was not the reason Arsenal lost.
Our focus should now be on trying to maximize our slim chances of winning the Premiership. But this loss brings clearly to focus – if we are the Premiership best at keeping the ball then we are left with the horrifying prospect of English teams not winning the CL for a long time.