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Arsenal Pulls Off Miracle Draw Against Barcelona

 Arsenal Pulls Off Miracle Draw Against Barcelona

There’s a magic about soccer that sometimes feels like hypnotism. Whenever a goal is scored, it’s almost as if everything that happened before it is erased from the person’s mind.

On Wednesday night, never mind the fact that Arsenal was outplayed for 75 minutes in their Champions League match against Barcelona. Instead focus on the last 15 minutes where the Gunners pulled a goal back from the inspirational Theo Walcott and tied the game with a penalty scored by Cesc Fabregas.

For the last quarter of this match, Arsenal deserved everything they got. After Walcott’s goal, the Gunners played with a self-belief and finally a physicality that was severely lacking earlier in the match. Barcelona, for the first time in the game, was on the back foot and tried to defend Arsenal’s wave after wave of attacks.

The turning point was a massive piece of good fortune for Arsenal when the Swiss referee erroneously pointed to the spot when Fabregas fell to the ground after getting tangled up with Puyol. It should never have been a penalty, but Arsenal accepted the opportunity and Fabregas made it 2-2. In doing so, Fabregas injured his leg and looks likely to miss the rest of the season. Heroically or stupidly, depending on which way you look at it, Fabregas played the rest of the game, limping around the field knowing that all three substitutes had been used and realizing that this was his last chance to play against Barcelona since the yellow card he picked up earlier in the game suspended him from the return leg next week.

Focusing on the first 75 minutes of the match, this was a game of miracles. It was a miracle that Arsenal went into half-time at nil-nil such was the way that Barcelona completely outplayed Arsenal for the first 45 minutes of the game. It was a miracle that Barcelona didn’t score a dozen goals. It was a miracle that Arsenal came away from this game with a draw. It was a miracle that Arsenal is still within a fighting chance of knocking Barcelona out of the tournament next week.

I’ve watched over a thousand soccer games in my lifetime, but I have never seen such as one-sided first half away performance as I did Wednesday night at the Emirates Stadium. Here are my notes from the earlier parts of the game:

  • 6th min.: Arsenal looks like they have no chance in this match. Barcelona could have been 3-0 up by now with chances by Ibrahimovic, Messi and Busquets,
  • 9th min.: Why is no one marking Dani Alves? The Brazilian keeps on running down his right wing with little pressure or opposition against him.
  • 10th min.: This match resembles a practice session for Barcelona. They’re playing keep-away and Arsenal just can’t get the ball,
  • 14th min.: It could easily be 5-0 or 6-0 to Barcelona if their accuracy was better,
  • 16th min.: Barcelona has already had 9 shots on goal. Bayern Munich managed 13 shots in the entire 90 minutes against Manchester United,
  • 17th min.: Arsenal is playing like Blackburn Rovers now. They finally managed to get possession and Almunia decides to kick it long down the field only for the ball to be won by Barcelona, and the Spanish giants regain possession.
  • And so on.

Judging by how poor Arsenal was in the first quarter of the match, it’s a miracle that they even came close to winning it at the death.

How a team can have so many gifted players but then play with such a lack of a game plan as well as keep on making amateurish mistakes is beyond me. At set pieces, the marking by Arsenal was juvenile. Busquets was continually wide open around the edge of the penalty area and almost scored a couple of times. The marking by Arsenal from the corner kicks was equally poor. The passing by Arsenal was awful. By the 20th minute in the game, the only glimmer of hope was the quality performance that Almunia was putting in for Arsenal after making several spectacular saves. Everyone else on the Arsenal team was horrendous in the first quarter, which was definitely the worst I’ve seen Arsenal play in years.

To be fair, Barcelona was brilliant in the first 75 minutes of the game. Whenever Arsenal got the ball, they instantly pressured the Gunners and made them make mistakes by closing them down tightly and offering them few opportunities to pass to open players. Barcelona also was masterful in possession as they sprayed the ball around the pitch and worked incredibly hard by always moving into open positions and sprinting forward when needed.

Barcelona, especially Ibrahimovic, will be kicking themselves for missing so many great chances to score in this game. But when Barcelona did finally score in the game, it was while the Gunners were asleep from the second half kick-off. Barcelona had far too much time on the ball and one of their midfielders was able to put the perfect pass through to Ibrahimovic who was wide open to lob the ball over Almunia and into the back of the net. Barcelona’s second goal was almost a carbon copy of the first one as Ibrahimovic found himself in the same exact position and this time rocketed the ball into the back of the net past Almunia’s left side.

At two-nil down, Arsenal looked spent. But it was the admission of Theo Walcott which instantly sparked Arsenal to life. Just minutes after coming on, Walcott received a beautiful pass from Nicklas Bendtner. With one touch, Walcott controlled the ball. And with his second touch he kicked the ball underneath Victor Valdes to give the Gunners some hope.

While the opening half of this match resembled a free-for-all shooting gallery by Barcelona, it made me wonder what a master tactician manager such as Jose Mourinho would have done differently in this game. Sure, it wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting of a match with Jose in charge. This was, by far, one of the most exciting matches of the year. But the way that Arsenal played with what seemed like no game plan other than to play their normal game was extremely risky because Arsenal could have been obliterated by half-time. Instead the Gunners rode lady luck and held on. And after the inclusion of Walcott, they were able to play with a desire that few clubs can capture. But still, I often feel when watching Arsenal that they play like the unfinished article. That what they’re missing is not the skill or swagger, but it’s the game plan and tactics that managers such as Mourinho and Benitez (except for this season) have mastered in Europe.

While few people will probably remember Arsenal’s performance in this game, they will remember the scoreline and they will remember what a wonderful match it was to watch. It was full of drama, full of wonderful skill and a shining example of how good this sport can be when it’s played by some of the best athletes in the world. I’m looking forward to seeing the return leg next week, but can hope that even if it’s only half as good as Wednesday’s match, it will be fine indeed.

Final remarks:

  • Audio difficulties plagued the first 15 minutes of the game on Fox Soccer Channel so we were unable to hear commentators Rob Hawthorne and David Platt for several minutes. To our rescue came Matt Lorenzo, Warren Barton and Bobby McMahon. But the decision to have all three give their analysis while the game was unfolding was a poor decision. We don’t want to hear deep analysis as the action is happening on the pitch. We want someone to commentate what we’re seeing, add a bit of analysis now and again, but focus on the game, not on what happened earlier. When audio difficulties have happened in the past, Fox’s Nick Webster would often step in to commentate the game until the audio feed could be fixed. Webster is no Martin Tyler, but I far prefer hearing Webster commentating a game than Lorenzo, Barton and McMahon giving analysis. Don’t get me wrong, their analysis is great. But it needs to be given before and after a game, and at half time.
  • Just as the 2-2 scoreline in the Arsenal against Barcelona match masked how poor Arsenal was in the first half, the same can be said of Manchester City’s 3-0 win against Wigan this past Monday. It was a game where Wigan worked incredibly hard, especially in the first half, and fought for every ball. After Caldwell was unfairly sent off for Wigan, the game turned in Manchester City’s favor and Carlos Tevez turned on his magic to score three lovely goals. But just as the scoreline indicates three points for Manchester City, most people will forget how hard Wigan played. Goals tend to do that. They erase everything that happened previously.
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About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
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34 Responses to Arsenal Pulls Off Miracle Draw Against Barcelona

  1. Simon Burke says:

    Bit of debate on the penalty. Mcmahon and BArton had it as certain penalty. I personally thought it was hit or miss. He gets clipped but ball already gone past him I felt. Bit fortunate.

    Great game, i am still recovering. Barcelona deserved to hammer us in truth.

  2. Ry Dizz says:

    Gaffer, are you serious in calling the penalty erroneous? Cesc was about to shoot and Puyol clumsily stepped in without even making a play on the ball. It’s an obvious penalty, and under the current UEFA rules, an automatic red card. While Puyol didn’t appear to maliciously foul Cesc, it should be remembered that intentions have nothing to do with penalties.

    The result should have been something like 4-2 in favor of Barca, but this game isn’t about the number of chances created, it is about the number of chances taken. Barca was horrendous in finishing their chances, and with that in mind they got what they deserved. I don’t expect Arsenal to waltz into Camp Nou and get a result, but anything can happen.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Ry, I thought it wasn’t a penalty in a million years. Fabregas cocked his leg back to strike the ball and hit Puyol.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • unclesand says:

        sorry, gaff, have to agree with ry. ref got it right on both counts, penalty and red card. great comeback by the gunners but i think barca will kill them at the camp nou. they belong amongst the greatest teams that ever played this game we all love. bendtner was arsenal’s best player by a mile.

  3. jm says:

    I thought it was a penalty, but I can see the dispute. It was a “bad luck” penalty in my mind.

    All I’ll say for now, though, it’s nice to be an Arsenal fan on the “winning” end of one of these matches! I can’t say how many times over the past few years, the storyline has been “Arsenal dominant but wasteful in front of goal!”

    (Obviously by “winning” I don’t mean winning the match, but rather getting the better of that exchange).

    • The Gaffer says:

      JM, good point there about Arsenal. It was almost as if Barcelona played like the Arsenal of old tonight by missing so many chances in front of goal.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  4. Ruud says:

    I was and still am quite jealous of those who have FSC in HD and got to see such a great match the way it was supposed to be viewed.

    Great match overall that had all kinds of highs and lows. The yellow card for Cesc was beyond harsh but at this point I guess it doesn’t matter…

    My second leg prediction is 1-1 to Arsenal

  5. Mission Man says:

    I didn’t think it was a penalty by any stretch of the imagination. As Gaffer noted, Fabregas kicked Puyols — unfortunately for Barca, the ref seemed to be slightly out of position.

    That said, while I can’t stand Arsenal, at least it makes next week’s leg a bit more interesting — although I can’t see Arsenal without Fabregas or Van Persie getting two goals at Camp Nou….

  6. gunner in philly says:

    yeah, the ref. Ah it’s all the refs fault. Forget the six, mostly rediculous yellow cards he gave to Arsenal, one against Fabs which he clearly won the ball. I don’t hear you Arsenal haters talking about that?
    Maybe if Puyol did his job and had proper position he wouldn’t have put him and his team in such trouble for a penalty. Now he’s out you for the 2nd leg you Barca fan boys!

  7. SeminoleGunner says:

    It still hasn’t sunk in that Arsenal actually came back in this one. I’ve never seen them get dominated like they did for the first 75 minutes today. Barca went to sleep and a lot of the blame for what happened has to fall on them, but I never would have expected Arsenal to capitalize.

    Cesc has been a really tough competitor this season. You can tell he thinks Arsenal can win something and he wants it bad. Disappointing news if he is out for the season and World Cup.

    It will be a very tall order in the 2nd leg. Might as well throw everything we’ve got at their two backup center backs and see what happens. Whatever momentum there is in the tie has to be with Arsenal.

  8. Eric Altshule says:

    Barca was clearly cheating for just about the entire game. Soccer is supposed to be 11 x 11, and Barca had 14 or 15 players out there on the pitch today. Every time an Arsenal player had the ball, he was surrounded by two or three players, and once they nicked the ball, there were handfuls of players in yellow ready to receive it, ping it around and set up a shot.

  9. I thought it was a definite penalty. Puyol comes into Fabregas and makes no intent to play the ball whatsoever, while Fabregas was intending to volley it. The red card on the other hand was a bit harsh.

    Soccer is a funny game, because Arsenal do not deserve to be in this tie. Wenger needs to start Walcott next week because without him (as weird as it is to say) they had nothing tonight. His pace will negate Maxwell’s forward bursts and keep their back four on their heels.

  10. brn442 says:

    That was a harsh penalty, it was as ridiculous as players who get booked for obstruction by simply holding their postion – what was Puyol supposed to do, get out of Fabregas’s way?

    As for the Catalans playing like the “Arsenal of Old”, not really. The Gunners of old simply passed the ball one time too many without even getting “those chances in front of goal” to miss most of the time, as opposed to Barca’s ruthless, efficient passing and use of space and pace last night. Their finishing did let them down in the 1st half however.

  11. brn442 says:

    And another thing, slightly off topic but as you mentioned the Wigan v Man City match.

    Why is Wigan paying Jason Scotland to play football?

    The season is almost over and he hasn’t scored once (ok, fair enough – maybe can’t at this level)

    But why after 60+ minutes of match this “professional” sub has to run back into the tunnel to “find” his shirt before he could come on? He then comes on clearly 15 pounds overweight, he can barely run, he then loses the ball and doesn’t even make effort to make amends, even though he has the “fresh legs” in a 10 man side, which leads to a Man city goal that kills off the match. What a disgrace.

    • The Gaffer says:

      brn442, I have to disagree with you regarding Jason Scotland. Yes, he should have been ready to come on for Wigan and shouldn’t have to run into the tunnel to get his shirt, but he’s not fat, he’s husky. He looks more like a body builder with a large upper body. No, he’s not fast, but he never has been.

      When he played at Swansea, my team, he was the top scorer. What he’s best at is holding the ball with his back towards goal and then turning around, facing the goal, dribbling past defenders and knocking the ball into the net. He did it last season against Portsmouth in the FA Cup and he’s still a good footballer except he hasn’t done well this season.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • brn442 says:

        Gaffer, I knew Jason Scotland when he played at Swansea, and before that when he was at Dundee. Martinez understandably has faith in him for what he did at your club. I believe that he can score at this level – he hasn’t, as I’ve said, fair enough. But there is no excuse for a professional footballer named as a sub not having his shirt ready in the 60+ minute of a match, he was never skinny but he has clearly gained weight the last month or so, and the least at out of form striker can do is increase his work rate or in the case of Scotland, get one.

  12. King says:

    Arsenal do not have a chance….. The only thing that erroneous penalty does is delay the envitable.

    Bye, Bye, Arsenal………………….

  13. Gedo says:

    You guys make me laugh…”Arsenal doesn’t deserve to be in this tie” or “they don’t have a chance”….unfortunately, beautiful football doesn’t always get the desired result as Arsenal fans know full well. How many times have you seen Arsenal dominate possession and give-up a tying goal in the 90th….uuhh, Birmingham (twice). It’s about making the most of your chances, not how you dominate possession.

  14. RVP Fan says:

    Man, seriously people sometimes need to erase their biased blurry eyes and see what exactly unfolded. Why would Cesc kick Puyol when he was in a point blank sure shot range to score? Nothing could have stopped him from scoring at that range, not even a blind eye or a broken leg, and all of a sudden a player of Cesc’s quality decides he is going to Kick Puyol, get him red-carded and score penalty. Are you people serious?

    However, I admit that we were completely outplayed, outclassed and outpossessed. We look like minows in front of Barca. We were shattered, dead, buried and I have never seen such dominating performance by the other team against us. No matter what the score-line suggests, this was a complete annihilation. Barca displayed an art of playing football. The total football that the Dutch pride on. I am happy to witness one of the greatest football show on turn and would have been happy to be in the losing end. Ironically, we live to fight another day.

  15. Brickthrower says:

    What Puyol did was not a penalty and certainly not a red card and I’m saying that as a neutral fan. When in the world was getting the dominant position considered a foul. He didn’t swing at Fabregas’ leg, he merely stood there, which I guess nowadays is a red card offense. The ref was simply atrocious. Fabregas sees yellow for completely getting all ball??? And it wasn’t even fully from behind. Earlier in the game Sagna was called for a foul, when all he was doing was getting shielded off the ball. Both hands were in the air, it was an amazingly horrible call. But that’s the game for you. Refs are getting worse and players are trying to get away with more.

    Also. When I watch a game I want the announcer to at least try and be neutral. The Arsenal favoritism by the FSC announce team was shockingly one sided. When Fabregas scored his penalty you would think that Jesus had just rose again. And Theo Walcott was obviously Moses, leading his people to the promise land.

    Exciting, yet frustrating, game and I hope these same problems don’t plague the second leg.

    • SeminoleGunner says:

      I’ll agree with you about the commentators. That kind of bias is all too common in soccer. In international play, or European play, it seems almost understood that the announcers will pull for the team from their country.

  16. Tyson says:

    I think Arsenal were the better team over the 90 minutes. Most football fans seem to have a very simple interpretation of good football but the only number that matters is the scoreline. That means if a team has 99% domination and takes a billion shots, if the other team can make a goal with their only shot and tiny amount of possession they win.

    Arsenal enjoyed about half as much possession and took a quarter as many shots but remained on equal terms. Arsenal played better quality football while Barcelona opted for quantity. If the second half unfolds like that with the away goal advantage I see Arsenal going through.

    BTW If you make contact with a player but not the ball in the box it’s almost certainly either a penalty or a red card. Given the position and timing it was harsh to give both but he was unquestionably going to give something simply put its uncertain whether Fabregas would have scored at all from that position but what is certain is the ball wasn’t touched at all. That decision will simply go against you in one way or another you won’t ever get away with not making contact with the ball and just the player.

  17. ovalball says:

    Why I love Brit commentators:

    About 17 min. into the opening barrage by Barca the commentator deadpans, “Almunia, the warmest man in north London.”

    Priceless.

  18. mw828 says:

    if it was a penalty it had to be red card too. at least puyol can take solace in the fact that the incident might have ended fabregas’s season.

  19. Jrad says:

    DEFINITELY a penalty. Puyol came from behind. the ref was on top of it and made the right call

  20. Terry says:

    Puyol wasn’t just standing there. I mean come on, some of you people think he just stood there, saw Cesc with the ball, saw him taking a swing and… just… stood… there? “Oh, gee, I wonder if I should do anything, doh” he must have been thinking then. It’s bogus to say he was just standing there.

    I see Puyol’s foul as no different than a defender stepping to his side to get in the way of an oncoming striker who has passed the ball beyond them. It’s interference: it’s “impeding the progress of an opponent”. And in this case, it was a goal scoring chance so a penalty and a red card.

    Next week: No Fabregas, no Gallas, no Puyol, no Pique… anything can happen. I really wonder about the psyche of Man Utd and Barcelona after the way they finished. (And doesn’t Chelsea feel ever so confident with a Rooney-less, Fabregas-less Premier League!)

    • hank says:

      It looked to me like Puyol positioned his body between Fabregas and the ball — i.e., he was shielding the ball, which is perfectly legal. Fabregas kicked him trying to reach the ball. The difference from the situation you describe is that Puyol was facing *towards* the ball, and (to me at least) appeared to be playing the ball, rather than facing away from the ball and clearly just playing the man. It’s obviously debatable, but not a penalty in my book.

  21. IanCransonsKnees says:

    A referee pulling up his players and booking them for what (to me) were perfectly fair and routine tackles

    ‘hoisted on your own petard’ was just not in it

    an agent for the beautiful ‘non contact sport’ version of the game

    totally thwarted by a referee who, would not let his team tackle and effectively, reduced them to being totally out classed passengers for long periods as a direct result.

    Arsene – you deserved that for most of last night

    and – you’ve no chance in the away leg matey !

    (couldnt happen to a nicer bloke either )

  22. Ry Dizz says:

    I think we’re all distracted from the real story of the night: Theo Walcott’s awesome display.

    I was hoping we’d see him test Maxwell, and test him he did. The pace at which he attacks is a sight for sore eyes. He turned the game around with that first goal and providing some decent crosses as well. With Capello in attendance last night you must be thinking Walcott is at least on the verge of being a sure thing on that England roster.

    • Eladio says:

      Theo’s impact was all the more noticeable due to Barca’s back line looking a little tired in the last 20 minutes of the game. That’s natural with the way Barca play, esp. with the wide backs often times entering the offensive flow. Which is why Theo should be used more off the bench, rather than starting, in my opinion.

  23. Hunter says:

    It was a penalty because Puyol clumsily ran over the back of Fabregas. I do not think it should have been a red card. I know intention is a polarizing topic as it comes to penalty kicks, but the referee should have used better discretion. Puyol fouled Fabregas, but it was not a direct foul to impede a scoring opportunity. It was simply tangled legs, which prevented Cesc from getting off his point-blank shot. A penalty and caution would have sufficed. The centerback situation for both sides at the Nou Camp could result in a flurry of goals.

  24. dlink09 says:

    its a penalty.. simple get over it haters.. :)

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