I have about as much appetite for continuing with that joke as I do heading out on a quick pre-blog 10k run. Still, you’ve gotta do it. It’s tradition.
Last night was a special evening.The heavens opened and unleashed a cocktail of rain and hail as Geoff, Franchise and myself headed up Gillespie road talking about how we saw the evening going. Geoff was in for victory, Franchise felt we might lose, I was sitting on the fence… I just couldn’t call it.
The game kicked off and Barca flew out of the traps out passing us and retaining the ball like football bullies.
I hope I’m not the only one who felt a little let down by the first half?
I appreciate that we were playing one of the greatest teams to grace the planet in the last 20 years, but I didn’t feel like we gave a good account of ourselves.
Barca were more hungry that us, they hustled, they defended in clusters and they really did give us a spanking with the footballing beauty stick.
If I’m honest, it was was like watching your Dad take a beating from the new Spanish kids Dad in the school yard despite being the British heavyweight champion.
I hated it, but at the same time, it was difficult not to marvel at their near perfect football.
Bar a half decent Nasri shot and a double attempt from an offside Nik Bendtner, we failed to make any sort of impact on the game.
It wasn’t because we were out of our depth either, it was because we gave Barca far too much respect. We feared their pace to the point where we were looking over our shoulders and panicking before we’d even received the ball. That wasn’t the Arsenal way and it wasn’t and acceptable way to go out of the Champions League.
Almunia was the hero of the half, keeping the ball out like his livelihood depended on it, about time too I thought. He made three or four world class saves and played like he was the Spanish number one. Vermaelen did his part in defence and Song was marshalling the midfield with power and discipline. The first turning point of the game came when Gallas went off injured. Instead of Wenger replacing him with Campbell, he dropped Song into defence and brought Denilson on. A gasp went out around the stadium, but it needn’t have… Denilson more than held his own.
We managed to take the game to half time without conceding. I think every Arsenal fan accepted that if Barca were a prison cell mate, they’d be in the top bunk, touching you as you slept… and there wouldn’t be anything you could do to stop it.
The second half started, a long ball was fired into the box, Almunia put his clown gloves on and found himself in no clowns land, Ibrahimovic obliged and dinked the ball over his head into the empty net. Terribly indecisive keeping that went against his form in the game. The crowd was muted. That wasn’t the type of goal you conceded at this level.
Arsenal went up the other end, Sagna whipped a perfect cross into the box, Nik rose like a salmon escaping a bear, only to have his thunderous header saved by Valdes. By Niks standards, it was great he headed it on target, by Champions league standards, it was an unforgivable miss. Still, I consoled myself with the misses of the more experienced Spaniards.
The next Barca attack went down the same flank as the first goal, Ibrahimovic found himself in the same position, this time deciding to rifle it into the Almunia’s near post as hard as he could. It was a great shot, but great keepers don’t get done at their near post.
Did the crowd give in? No! Did the players give in? No! We were good enough to get something out of this game, and boy did we prove that!
I can’t remember how events unfolded, but some how, Eboue (Sagna) managed to get himself onto the pitch, along with Theo Walcott (Arshavin). I remember telling my new friends that Theo didn’t have the intelligence to merit a place on the pitch. Well, within about ten minutes, the egg gods where spreading their proteiness goodness all over my face as Nik B superbly played the winger in and Theo slipped the ball under Valdes. Bad keeping, good composure. Arsenal were back in it! Nik partially redeemed himself!
Thierry Henry came on. A blatant tactic by Pep to gee up his team and put Arsenal of their game. What did the Arsenal fans do? We cheered him like the messiah had landed! I was going ballistic. Save all the lovey dovey stuff for after the game!!! He could put us out the game in 2 minutes! Arsenal fans? Just a bunch of hopeless romantics at heart!
Arsenal continued to hammer at the Barca goal, Eboue was electric, he was a menace, he looked like the greatest full back the world had ever seen! He came of age tonight and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Brazil team. His pace and trickery bamboozled Barca and allowed us to play our open free flowing football. It might sound like an exaggeration, but Eboue gave Arsenal the belief to play the beautiful game.
That combined with an inspired Theo Walcott performance and Arsenal took control. Wenger was criticised by me for including Theo at the weekend. Rightly so, he was dire. Then tonight, he comes off the bench and plays like a different player. He looked classy, decisive and powerful. He was a different man and didn’t that fans just love it?
We squandered a few chances, then the moment came, a high ball looped into the box, Nik cushioned it to Cesc 6 yards out, Puyol slammed into the Spaniard, the ref blew for a penalty and dished out a red card to the man in a permanent 70′s get up. Up stepped Cesc, sure of missing the next game, only to rifle it past Valdes! What a way to sign off!
The shame of it? Well, rumour has it he may have broken his leg. I knew we should have chucked the Porto game! I joke. However, I have heard the x-ray was clear!
The ref blew up and despite the game only being a draw, the Grove faithful witnessed one of the best games of football the new stadium has seen.
So in conclusion? Too much damn respect. Barca are masters of their craft, but so are we. It took us 60 minutes to realise that you’re only as good as you’re allowed to play. More belief in the second half, more faith in our game and bit more cutting edge.
When we go to their place, we need to make sure we don’t give them acres of space out wide and we need to make sure we’re not afraid to press them when they’re in possession. Our passing needs to tighten up and our finishing needs to be sharper. Probably the most important factor missing at the Nou Camp will be the 12th man… the fans. I’m hoping the youth don’t get overawed by the settings. After all, it’s just a big shed with some seats in some dump hole city.
I don’t feel that we’re a million miles away from Barcelona technically, but I do feel we’re along way from them mentally. Half the strength of the Spaniards is their winning mentality… you can see we’re starting to develop ours, but it’s hard when you come up such great opposition.
I believe we can go to the Nou Camp and win. It’ll need a Barca off day and an Arsenal on day but we can win.
We go to the third world safe in the knowledge that one goal and one clean sheet will see us through to the next round.
That’s a special feeling, that was a special night.
Almunia: Pulled off some wonder saves and showered himself in goalkeeping glory for 45 minutes but the fact remains, he was in no mans land for the first goal and he got beat at his near post for the second. He’s not the best and it’s costing us. At this level, you can’t afford passengers. 6
Clichy: Messi who? The boy done good tonight. His crossing was better than normal and his defending was pretty damn good. 7
Vermaelen: A good game from a great player. He couldn’t do more than push Ibrahimovic out wide for both goals. Maybe partially at fault for the second. 7
Gallas: Was part of the shaky start, then typically went off injured. Very disappointing because as Geoff rightly points out, he’s never about for the business end. 7
Sagna: I thought he had a terrific game, he defended well, but he had to come off when it was clear we needed goals. 7
Song: Played very well for the first twenty when heads were dropping like a Henry VIII divorce party. When he slipped into the centre of defence, he proved his versatility and showed us why Wenger wanted Melo in the summer. He’ll be a long-term centre back, just like Wenger said last season. An assured and comfortable performance from one of the most consistent performers in the team. I’ve had a look at the replays and Song’s positioning wasn’t great for the second goal. 7
Diaby: I’ve been champing this man for a while, tonight, I felt like he let me down. His passing was shoddy, his decision-making was weak and he really looked rattled by the hustle of Barca. A very disappointing performance from a player I expected to announce himself to Europe. 5
Cesc: You’ve got to love the fact he played through the pain barrier and put his World Cup dreams on the line for Arsenal. I really hope he hasn’t broken his leg… I thought his performance was gritty and hard working. He didn’t create like he normally does, then again, we weren’t playing run of the mill opposition. Great control to win the penalty, super penalty under immense pressure. 7
Arshavin: Very anonymous in the first half, so anonymous, you hardly noticed him leaving the pitch. 5
Nasri: The difference between Nasri and Cesc is pace. Nasri is a far better running with the ball at his feet and in the second half, he showed that. He’s like our Lionel Messi. When he’s on his game, it’s difficult to get near him. He was very guilty of letting the occasion get to him in the first half but he grew with the game. He made some fantastic tackles that certainly didn’t go unnoticed. He’ll have the honour of taking over from Cesc in the next Barca game on Tuesday. I think he’s more than capable of filling the void. A solid performance. 7.5
Bendtner: Ok, so he missed an absolute peach of a chance that most Champions league strikers would have buried, but on the upside, he helped set up Nasri for the penalty and he assisted Theo for the first. Not to mention how many headers he won and how well he linked play in the second half. The guy is going to be a top talent. Look at Ibrahimovic and you’ll get a good idea of what Bendtner will become.7
Theo: Ok, another player I’ve failed to attach myself to… but he did his job tonight with more than just pace. He timed his runs well, he used his skill to round players and he finished well under a lot of pressure. I super performance from the bench. Bravo Theo, I was extremely pleased with your offering today. 9
Eboue: Everyone knows I’ve never been a fan of Eboue and his game, mainly because the aggro has out weighed the brilliance. Tonight, he could have taken a dump on a disabled kids lap and I wouldn’t have flinched. He was superb when he came on. I have no doubt that his confidence and energy gave Arsenal the belief to pull back a draw. My favourite performance from the Ivorian EVER! 9
Denilson: Sometimes I feel like we all need a player to unite against. Now, I’m not saying Denilson doesn’t deserve the flak he’s been getting, but it seems like many peoples attention has switched to this guy now some of the other marmites are doing better. I felt Denilson was better than Song last year. He’s got it in him to be a good player. Last night, he came on against a superb team and he had a fantastic game. He linked play, marshalled the defence and helped turn our fortunes around. There was no excuse for being overtaken by the ref earlier in the season, but over the past few games, he’s started to show signs of coming good. 7.5
See you in the comments!
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