In 90 minutes on Wednesday evening, Arsenal showed how close and how far they are from being a complete team capable of winning the Premier League and/or Champions League. On the negative side, their defense was far too easy to open up as Barcelona found plenty of space in and around the back four. But more importantly, their biggest weakness Wednesday night at the Emirates was their inability to produce the precise final ball. Time and time again, throughout the match, several Arsenal players including Emmanuel Eboue, Alex Song and Theo Walcott were all guilty of providing poor service in the last third of the pitch to Robin van Persie with stray passes that lacked the accuracy needed to mount serious goalscoring chances. At the other end of the pitch, Barcelona’s Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Dani Alves and Lionel Messi showed how it was done by spraying beautiful and dangerous through balls to the feet of forwards.
Nevertheless, the turning point in the game was in the midpoint of the second half where Arsenal got a free kick outside the edge of the penalty area and Cesc Fabregas stepped up. Fabregas rallied the players and fans at that moment by clenching his fists and shaking them, and showing immense determination in his face. It was a sense belief that declared, “We can do it. We have Barcelona on the back foot. We need to stand up and fight hard, and die trying.”
From that moment on, it was a totally different game for Arsenal. All of a sudden it seemed that the final through-ball or cross from Arsenal was far more effective and precise. Gael Clichy supplied a brilliant through-ball for Robin van Persie who ran on to it and thundered the ball low and hard into the net inside the near post. This was finally the type of ball delivery that van Persie was craving in the match which had long been absent since the opening minutes of the game where the Dutchman got a couple of great through-balls to create goal scoring chances.
For Arsenal’s second goal, it was again an example of more precise passing that helped generate the goal. From Jack Wilshere, who had one of the best performances of his career, to Fabregas to Samir Nasri and into the box for Andrei Arshavin to hit the ball first-time into the back of the net. The creation of the goal was pure Barcelona-esque. A thing of beauty and again an example of how clinical Arsenal can be when they can deliver that final through-ball. The second goal sent the sold-out crowd at the Emirates into hysterics as the scarves came out and the singing multiplied. It was one of the loudest nights I had heard at Emirates Stadium. Arsenal were deservedly beating Barcelona, undoubtedly the best football team on the planet.
If Arsenal can continue to work on their final pass in the last third of the pitch between now and the end of the season, then their chances of pushing for a Premier League title or Champions League success is high. They still are too wobbly in defense for my liking despite the world-class performance Wednesday night by Laurent Koscielny. But if they can hold things together at the back and be more precise in their passing when moving the ball into the final third of the pitch, Arsenal has the makings of having a very successful season.
The second leg in Barcelona will be a must-see match. In the leg at the Camp Nou, how do you think Arsenal should play? Should they adopt a more defensive approach to limit the number of goals that Barcelona scores, or should Arsenal play like they did on Wednesday night? Share your opinions in the comments section below.