Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Barcelona Progress Past Ten-man Arsenal

Messi's flick over Almunia before scoring was pure genius

If there's one thing this tie has provided, it has been excitement. While Arsenal were victorious in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium, Barcelona turned it around in the return leg winning 3-1. Yet Arsenal will feel unlucky as a strange sending off made the game more difficult than it already was for the Gunners.

The match started (and continued) as you'd expect it to: possession play by Barcelona. The home team kept the ball wonderfully, and in 15 minutes they created three notably dangerous chances. One of which, a searing free kick from Dani Alves, dislocated Szczesny's finger, forcing Arsene Wenger to bring on the substitute keeper Manuel Almunia in the 19th minute. The first half continued as it started, passing by Barcelona as Arsenal did their best to make clean interventions and take the ball away. While Diaby was played as a sort of defensive midfielder, it was Wilshere who did the majority of tough tackling for Arsenal.

Yet among all of Barcelona's possession, they weren't the piercing team that we're used to seeing. Much more sideways passing, with occasional bursts of brilliance which created chances. With chances come goals, and Messi scored in the final minutes of the first half's injury time after Fabregas gave the ball away with a very silly backheel in front of the Arsenal defence. This allowed Iniesta to play Messi through, and the Argentine flicked the ball over Almunia and coolly volleyed into the Arsenal net.

Robin van Persie was incredulous when he was sent off
The second half had an initial flurry of activity, with Arsenal getting an equalizer just eight minutes in. A rare corner for the Gunners was headed past Victor Valdes by Sergio Busquets, making for a uniquely comical own goal. But just three minutes later Arsenal were the unlucky ones.

Robin van Persie was sent off because of taking a shot after the referee had blown his whistle for offside. Looking at things, the decision was a preposterous one; never have I seen a decision like this executed with such conviction by the referee. The referee, Massimo Busacca, was fearless in his distribution of a yellow card, the Arsenal striker's second, therefore forcing van Persie to leave the field.

From there, Barcelona's passing pressure increased. Arsenal held out for 13 minutes in which Djouoru made a great last minute intervention as did Almunia between the sticks. Yet Barcelona's second goal came and it was their usual work of art. Languid yet rapid passing, with Xavi played through for a fairly simple finish to make it 2-1. Two minutes later, the quiet Koscielny brought down Pedro in the box, giving Messi the chance to complete his brace and kill off Arsenal. The Argentine scored, leaving Almunia flat-footed with his precise bottom-corner placement.

Xavi and his teammates celebrating after the second goal
3-1 for Barcelona, and Pep Guardiola's side continued to pile onto Arsenal. Hundreds if not thousands of scoring chances were created (alright, maybe I'm exaggerating a little), all either poorly finished or stopped by an inspired Almunia. Yet in the final minutes of the match, Arsenal came close to giving all of the Camp Nou a heart attack. Wilshere played a great ball through for Bendtner, yet the Arsenal forward was clumsy in front of goal. A poor first touch along with strong defending from Mascherano stopped what should've/could've/would've been the away goal of all away goals.

A truly exhilarating match in which Barcelona were victorious. The Catalans deserved to win the match, yet I can't help but feel bad for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger was right in saying that the referee's decision to send off van Persie killed off what could've been a fantastic game. Barcelona fans on the other hand will be celebrating, as this historic team progresses into the next round of the Champions League. Share your thoughts regarding the game below!


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