Arsenal Battered And Beaten In Nou Camp
Champions League Quarter Final, 2nd Leg
Barcelona 4 – 1 Arsenal
(Barcelona win 6 – 3 on aggregate)
0 – 1 Bendtner (18)
1 – 1 Messi (21)
2 – 1 Messi (37)
3 – 1 Messi (42)
4 – 1 Messi (87)
Another season’s European dream is in tatters, hearts shattered as Arsenal were out-passed, out-run, out-thought and outplayed. Having failed to live up to the hype in the first leg, Lionel Messi returned with a vengeance, his first half hat-trick battering Arsenal into submission. There were individual performances on the Arsenal side which were below par but overall, the better side won. As easy as it is to point to the Argentinean international as being the difference between the two sides, the rest of the Barcelona team put in a considerable amount of hard work to enable that difference to be made.
Over the two legs, the disappointment is that Arsenal did not play anywhere near their best save for the thirty minutes in the first leg. For that, Barcelona take credit, their speed of passing and retention of possession, combined with the pressure applied when chasing the ball prevented Arsenal from hitting their heights. The absence of injured players is no excuse, no matter their importance to the side. The squad should be deep enough to deal with this and comparably, Barcelona had injuries to similarly key players.
The opening exchanges were not as one-sided as the first leg but it was still Barcelona who enjoyed the majority of possession, Messi bringing a save from Almunia before dropping a shot onto the top of the net. It was apparent that Arsenal would spend the evening absorbing pressure and hitting on the break. Which is exactly what happened with the first quarter of an hour barely over.
Diaby won the ball in midfield, freed Walcott who used his pace to sprint into the area, unselfishly crossing to Bendtner, the Dane reacting quickest to the rebound after Valdes blocked his initial effort. The lead, the chance to put doubts into the hosts minds, prove everyone wrong about this squad.
To achieve that it was necessary to hold onto the lead. Arsenal did but for barely two minutes. Barcelona applied the pressure, Nasri deflected the ball into Silvestre, slightly wrong-footed as he intercepted, merely diverting it back to Messi who struck from the edge of the area into the top corner; an outstanding finish.
The second came as Arsenal tried to regroup. Abidal was played in behind the defence, his cross intercepted by Silvestre but his weak clearance only reached Messi – the finish punishing the ineffective defensive work in the build-up. The third, and Messi’s hat-trick, was not unexpected. The defence held a high line in their own half, Clichy not quite as far forward as he should have been, Messi played through and sprinted clear, finishing in the same manner as Carlos Vela has in the Carling Cup over the past couple of seasons. For a club well-versed with tight defending, it was a poor goal to concede.
In the second half, Barcelona seemed content to sit back, understandably with the tie in their control. Rosicky’s first time effort which flew high and wide whilst Bendtner hit the post, only to flagged offside. Pedro lifted the ball over the onrushing Almunia and wide of the goal whilst Clichy shot over when Eduardo was perhaps better placed. In the end, the fourth came as Messi weaved his way across the Arsenal area, Almunia blocked but was beaten as Messi drilled through his legs.
For Wenger, he has just over a week to work on the fitness of those who are absent. With the rest of the squad, it will be regrouping mentally. Last night would have damaged confidence, perhaps leading to questions about just how good the squad is, a crisis of faith perhaps. It showed how far they have to travel in order to become the best in Europe; that is a longer term concern. Immediately though wounded pride needs to be nutured ahead of the trip to White Hart Lane.
Question marks over the performances in the big matches will tax Arsene’s mind as he looks to strengthen the squad in the summer. As unpleasant as the thought is, we have woefully underachieved against our ‘peers’ this season. No one player or position is at fault. The lack of depth in central defence will no doubt be an area he looks to resolve, the absence of Gallas, Djourou, Song and Campbell last night proved too big a hole to plug. Now though is not the time for knee-jerk reaction.
Despite the obvious negatives, there were some positives to take forward. Clichy was excellent and his contest with Alves should have been the example followed by all. Likewise Almunia, despite conceding four, performed well. It hints that the ability is there, concentration and consistency need to follow. Sagna and Vermaelen played decently, shouldering their duties consistently throughout the evening, although the former was exposed for the second. Denilson’s critics were made to review their position, the Brazilian working hard to close down space.
Others can do better and will do but the upshot is that the list of potential trophies this season reduced to one. Focus returns to that now. Despite that though, there have been tangible improvements this season, the basis upon which to build for the remainder of this campaign and the future.
Posted on April 7, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, FC Barcelona, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 612 Comments.