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Arsenal Find The Missing Piece For Historic Win Against Barcelona

Photo by wonker

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.

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  1. SoccerLimey

    February 21, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Loved their performance. Took Barcelona out of their stride and attacked them where they are vulnerable – the back four. Wenger outcoached Guardiola but it’s not over yet. The nou Camp is a hell hole for English clubs.

    Arsenal took a huge step forward here

  2. Bannanpeel

    February 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Barcelona have been having problems scoring goals as of late. They don’t take advantage of possibilities and change them into chances as they used to, or as good as they used to early in the season. This has resulted in fewer goals scored, a draw and now a loss. If Arsenal should do it this is the time to beat Barcelona.

  3. Bannanpeel

    February 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Barcelona will be tougher in the Camp Nau. They will be tough in defense and sharper in offense. So Arsenal should be ready and confident and not change their style one bit. If they bunker they will be destroyed. The best defense is offense and this is so true against Barcelona.

  4. Pakapala

    February 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

    This may be a historic win for Arsenal, bla bla bla but the way people are re-writing the game into a Arsenal finding the key to beat Barcelona kinda rub me the wrong way. I am sorry Arsenal didn’t so much find a key to beat Barcelona, rather it was that 1) they caught Barca on an off day, where their finish wasn’t as sharp, and 2) at the end of the game Guardiola decided to be happy with 1-0 and look forward to the 2nd leg. This is more of a moral win for Arsenal, but as far as the result itself 2-1 after 1 leg, it is advantage Barcelona. My problem is people act like Arsenal went to Nou Camp and are coming back home with 2 away goals in the bag.

  5. vermaelen5

    February 18, 2011 at 6:29 am

    “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.”

    Maybe for a 30 minute stretch in the first half, but other than that our defence was spectacular. And this was without Sagna.

  6. the510-Gooner

    February 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    What i said, at the pub, was the defining moment was when Wenger stood up from holding his stomach like he was gonna barf, and unzipped the top coat to flash his french knot tie. He knew that his brilliant subbing would work in putting some fresh pace up front and his steely gaze unlocked the minds of his players, he went from looking like a kid with a tummy ache to the (hugo) BOSS he is.

    All joking aside, I think bacaray and his cockfighting headbutt style of play will help the back line and hopefully TV5 is back for the nou camp tie. Also GREAt is Pique will not be in the next match, only puyol to head off.


  7. Thomas

    February 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Great win for the Gunners. Sure they were a bit fortunate that Messi had an off night (and his goal was incorrectly ruled off side), but they played admirably.

    People are wondering why Barca didn’t exploit Eboue more? Well I would guess that part of this was due to Walcott. Even though he didn’t have the greatest game, I would guess that they didn’t want to risk getting cought out on the break over the right wing. Especially knowing that Nasri would probably be more reserved with his defensive responsibilities on the left.

    You don’t beat a team like Barca if a few things don’t go your way, though. And besides Messi having an off night, Arsenal played extremely well. People pointed out that Arsenal needed to be clinical to beat Barca, and they were. Though they did leave a few good chances on the table.

    You can point to Fabregas and his leadership, Arshavin finding the perfect time to exude his class, Konscielny playing out of his mind at the back…but if you really want to look at what transpired, Wilshere finally looked to be someone who could replace Viera in the center of the park.

    Granted they are very different, but football has also changed. Wilshere isn’t scared to get in on a tackle, and the fact that a 19 year old never lost his nerve against a side as good as Barca was extremely impressive. One of Barca’s big strenghts is that they get into your head, and really make you value possession, to a point where teams often misfire passes because they are playing scared. Wilshere was beyond excellent.

    For the return leg, Arsenal shouldn’t change much. Barca will be playing patiently, because all they need is 1-0 to get through.

    Arsenal are very different from Inter, or even Chelsea, who should have beaten Barca a few years ago. They don’t have the defensive minded nature to sit back and hope for a 0-0 draw over 90 minutes.

    They effectively dealt with Barca by pressing them, and should do so in the return leg. If they can press and get an early lead, Barca should be susceptible on the break as they’ll have to push even more.

  8. Bria

    February 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Barcarole gets Puyol back but loses Pique. The problem in the middle isn’t fixed. Arsenal will have Sangna back to help with the marauding by Alves and Pedro. Eboue was the biggest problem last night. He’s an amazing liability. Nasri will be back to full match fitness. I really think Barcarole is in trouble. I wouldn’t have thought that before last night. The comment about possession is moot. No one will ever have more possession than Barca. You have to them on the counter. Arsenal is one of the few that, when healthy, can competitvely do this. I was most impressed with the play of Djourou and Koscielny. They really tightened up in the second half. Messi’s “off night” had way more to do with Koscielny’s play than some fluke game. The return leg should be an instant classic.

    • Brian

      February 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      I hate posting via my phone. I have no idea what it auto-corrected Barca to. Barcarole? WTF?

      • The Gaffer

        February 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

        I actually thought the ‘Barcarole’ description was pretty apt!

        The Gaffer

  9. Andrei

    February 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    To me the missing part at least in this game was when Arsenal stopped emulating Barca in the second half and switched to more direct style. I don’t see the second goal as “pure Barcelona-esque” at all. It had directness that is often goes missing in typical Arsenal build ups. It reminded me the goal Arshavin scored at Anfield before he got conditioned to the Arsenal’s “death by 1000 passes” style. Two bold and direct plays from RVP and Arshavin helped to turn the game around.

  10. Western

    February 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Should Arsenal play the way they did last night at Camp Nou? Yes, if they want to be dominated for 80% of the game again and rely on a few fast breaks to get goals which wont come at Camp Nou. Lets face it….Barcelona dominated Arsenal for most of the game. Or are all of the Arsenal fans so blind with joy that they actually think they where the one with the ball all game and Barcelona was the team chasing shadows? You better enjoy this squeak of a home win because whats coming in Spain…..well, it will be different. Congrats on the win Arsenal, but you better figure out a better way than relying on a few counters to score more goals on the road because Barca will bring it at home. Dont count on Messi missing easy goals like he did last night. He could have easily scored 2 or 3. The missed chip in the 1st half….that was a miracle it didnt go in. Things will be very different next game, especially when Puyol is back. Trust me.

  11. Alex

    February 17, 2011 at 11:12 am

    There’s an advert for constipation on your site. Do we HAVE to listen to adverts about constipation without the chance to turn it off? Do your assume your readers all have constipation, or are you just trying to annoy them?

    • R2Dad

      February 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      That’s only for your region. On the west coast we get AAA auto insurance adverts here for old people. Not sure which is worse…unless you’re getting suppository graphics with old people on the loo, in which case yours would definitely be worse.

  12. john

    February 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

    No one metion Messi disallowed goal. If that goal stand. we could have seen a different match.

    • tonyspeed

      February 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Yes, if that had stool wenger would have brought on arshavin a lot sooner and arsenal would have scored 3 or 4.

      • john

        February 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

        cool dude.

    • Feehily

      February 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

      If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas… What I’m trying to say is, it was disallowed because he was offside, marginal, but off! SO what’s your point Poindexter?

  13. Feehily

    February 17, 2011 at 9:56 am

    You say Messi had an off night, I say he was played out of the game by Koscielny who inexplicably marked him almost into non existence. By the 75th min Messi was exhausted! Okay he missed a few but I also attribute that to our new number one Sczesny!
    For me the turning point was the substitution of Song. He was booked early and was therefore shackled, running around with no real purpose too scared to make a real tackle. He was like a dog looking for his bone but couldn’t remember where he buried it! His removal actually strengthened our midfield…
    But without a doubt the real difference was Jack Wilshere! He played out of his skin and made it look effortless against arguably the two best midfielders in world football today! I can only recall maybe two or three misplaced passes from him and his touch, his vision, his balance… We are watching an Arsenal Legend grow in front of our eyes.

    It was an amazing night for Arsenal Football Club and I hope we can stay fit for March 8th and complete what will go down in history of one of the great moments in our clubs great history!

  14. brn442

    February 17, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Arsenal had some of the the missing pieces last season but they were both injured – Van Persie and Fabregas.

    Wilshire had a brilliant match – the best player on the pitch hands down.

    Apart from kicking the ball into row Z in the last minute, Eboue was frustrating indeed.

    They may have been the weakest link but any defence that can hold Barca to one goal in the CL, can hold their heads up. The young keeper, again- had a good match.

  15. Dave C

    February 17, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Wow, I guess Fabregas needs to shake his clenched fists and show determination in his face more often!

    • Earl Reed

      February 17, 2011 at 9:29 am

      You know, I think what happened was that, when he did that, Pep and the rest of the Barca guys got extremely envious and angry at Wenger for stealing Fabregas from under their noses. It threw them right off their game. Pep said to himself, “Dammit, I should have that kind of leadership on my team!!!1!”

  16. cheese

    February 17, 2011 at 9:19 am

    This Barca team is so much better than that Barca team.

  17. MNUfan1991

    February 17, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Historic? Come on Gaffer. It’s not like no one has ever beat Barcelona before.

    Oh wait….

    • The Gaffer

      February 17, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Definitely a historic win. The 2-1 win last night will long live in the memory of Arsenal supporters as well as admirers of the Beautiful Game as well as neutral soccer fans.

      The Gaffer

      • Earl Reed

        February 17, 2011 at 9:25 am

        He’s right Gaffer, historic would be making it through an entire season without a loss, like ManUtd this season.

        Oh wait.

        Well, at least their first loss was against the 2nd place team.

        Oh wait.

        • MNUfan1991

          February 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

          Let’s see… one loss against a bottom team or five losses against a bunch of teams. What would Wenger choose?

    • sucka99

      February 22, 2011 at 2:42 am

      Historic because Arsenal had never beaten Barcelona.

      BTW Paul Scholes scores some fantastic goals

  18. tnnelson

    February 17, 2011 at 8:38 am

    i don’t think it would be wise for Arsenal to go to Barca and play more defensive, it’s just not their style. Inter could do it because Mourinho specializes in defensive solidarity and perfecting defensive assignments. Wenger and Arsenal just aren’t like that at all. lots of La Liga teams have gone to the Nou Camp and tried that and lost 4-0, and for a team that never parks the bus like Arsenal, this would be a foolish decision. that being said, they do need to shore things up in the back, the first half last night was atrocious at the back. but, i must give credit to their second half performance, its a very rare and strange sight to see Messi and Xavi and the like being frustrated and unable to complete passes. Arsenal needs to just play their game when they get the ball, which they showed last night they can do against Barcelona, and they need to collectively press Barcelona and disrupt their passing and not give them time on the ball, because they thrive on that. it won’t be easy at all, but if Arsenal can come out and play like they did in the first 10 minutes and last 35 of last night, I think they can progress

  19. stevek

    February 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

    i think getting sagna back for the second leg will huge. eboue tends to drift all over the pitch, i can’t believe barca didn’t attack him more.

    • sucka99

      February 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

      agree with stevek – Sagna will make a hell of a difference in the second leg esp wrt that final ball. Eboue has been maddeningly frustrating this season. But this team with Sagna and a fit Nasri will be LIGHT YEARS ahead of the team that went to Nou Camp last season and got boat raced.

      • integra

        February 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

        yup.wenger plz dont play eboue rite now.he always lost the ball.he really not impress as before.i really miss him, his performance from pass few years when he joined arsenal, that was quite impressed.
        Just put sagna back, if TV is fit, replace him with djorou. Need to play more defendsive and use our best counter attack at Nou Camp.surely need to work hard there. Hope our gunner do da best! wish u best of luck guys!!

  20. SeminoleGunner

    February 17, 2011 at 8:02 am

    This was the best win of the Emirates era. Jack Wilshere faced off against a World Cup winning midfield and looked amazing. Wenger’s aggressive substituting paid of brilliantly.

    Barcelona had their share of chances, and Messi having an off night helped things, but I was very pleased with the play of the back four. You’re never going to keep a clean sheet against Barca, so allowing one goal was as good as I could have hoped. Szczesny continues to impress, it’s been ages since I felt this confident in an Arsenal keeper.

    I think Arsenal have to play more or less the same game at Camp Nou and based on the post match rhetoric from the manager I expect them to.

  21. Arief

    February 17, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Your article sounded more like Arsenal is still missing a piece rather than Arsenal found the missing piece.
    So, what’s the piece then?

    • The Gaffer

      February 17, 2011 at 7:59 am

      Read the article again and it’ll tell you 🙂

      The Gaffer

    • Earl Reed

      February 17, 2011 at 8:14 am

      I get the impression that Gaffer feels that the leadership displayed by Fabregas was the missing piece.

      • tonyspeed

        February 17, 2011 at 10:26 am

        the missing piece was arshavin. He was involved in both goals.

  22. Robert Hay

    February 17, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Two key points I’d like to raise on this article, as an Arsenal fan:

    1. As absolutely delighted as I was watching the game last night (as in I ran through multiple rooms celebrating the second goal), Arsenal has had this moment before. It was the Chelsea win, it was the Man City win earlier in the year, it was the Everton comeback…..none of those teams are Barca-world class but Arsenal have had these defining wins all season, yet continue to choke a week or two later. Two steps forward, one back. If this truly is the turning point, then its a great one, but I’ll wait for a few weeks to say it is.

    2. If Arsenal can get Vermaelan back in March in good health, I think the back line issue because less ominous. Right now AFC is looking at three healthy center backs for four competitions, and one of them is Squillaci. A moderately healthy TV5 really helps the problems shown in this match, but his health is a big IF.

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