Barcelona Gunned Down by Arsenal
It was the match football purists had been waiting for with bated breath. The day the "best team in the history of the world" went to London to showcase their skills against the team most said to resemble them - Arsene Wenger's dangerous but undecorated Arsenal squad.
The same fixture took place in last year's Champions League as well, with much of the same hype. On that night Barca ran rampant for much of the game before a shell-shocked Arsenal managed to rally for a stirring two goal comeback, thanks to the pace of Theo Walcott, and steal a draw. However when the second leg took place at the Camp Nou, Arsenal heroics were eclipsed by a Lionel Messi one-man-show, the end result an emphatic 4-1 victory. No doubt it was this that led many Barca players and fans to enjoy a lingering sense of superiority over the younger English version of themselves; however last night that opinion underwent serious scrutiny.
In a packed Emirates Stadium, Barca got off to a brighter start and - as is their custom - dominated possession. But with the likes of Walcott, Nasri and Wilshere in fine form Arsenal had outlets where they could hurt Barcelona when they got the ball. Nonetheless the best chance of the first half fell to none other than Messi who raced onto a through ball for a one on one with Wojciech Szczesny. Unbelievably he missed it, his shot dragging agonisingly wide. David Villa however made amends for his fellow striker when he split the Arsenal centre backs to poke home a delightful through ball from the Argentine.
In the second half it was Arsenal who looked more like scoring as they managed to finally apply some regular pressure on the Barcelona goal, and perhaps mindful of that Pep Guardiola replaced Villa with Keita. Wenger meanwhile went on the offensive, taking off Song and replacing the holding midfielder with Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin. It was to prove a decisive substitution. First the Russian laid off the ball for Clichy who played a delightful chip over the Barcelona defense to Van Persie. The Dutchman had already missed several better chances when he blasted the ball with pinpoint accuracy in a needle-sized hole between Valdes and his goal post. But it was Arshavin's second meaningful contribution that shook Barca's own sense of mythology and rocked their air of invincibility. As Fabregas sent Nasri darting to the byline the Russian drifted into play at the edge of the penalty box and guided an unstoppable shot past the unsighted Valdes. It was 2-1 to Arsenal.
Few doubt that Barcelona have the firepower to overhaul the Gunners at Camp Nou, but they haven't made it easy for themselves. On the night they destroyed Arsenal 4-1 last year, the London outfit were forced through injuries and suspensions to effectively field their B-team. Facing Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri and of course Arshavin with a goal deficit, and a suspended Pique, won't be a comfortable ride for the home side.