Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona – 16/02/11 – (Champions League K.O. 1st Leg) 18 February, 2011Posted by lasagnechef in Arsenal News.
What a special night we’ve had this week. A bit late you might think for a match report but as Arseblogger so proudly stated today, it’s alright to bask in this victory for a little bit longer!
I said before the game that I would just be proud of us if we played well but I got more than I asked for. I wasn’t confident of us winning, I knew we were capable of it it’s just whether we had the composure and luck on the night. Before the match I had no clue which was this was going to go, it could’ve been 1-0, 0-1, 2-0, 1-3…anything. And the game was sort of like that, it could’ve been more or less for either team but when the whistle went we were on top and we beat Barcelona. That’s all that matters for me right now, I can say I’ve seen us beat FC Barcelona – the best opposition side I’ve seen in my era. That’s special, and I won’t let whatever happens in the away leg take that away from me, that victory is ours; it’s for the fans, for the players and for the manager. We’re in a decent position to knock Barcelona out but we’ll come to the second leg in a couple of weeks.
My day started with a quick lunch and then I was off to the bus stop to get down to Bournemouth station for my train to Waterloo. It felt a bit odd making my journey this early but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way, every big game we’re in I go down ridiculously early just to soak up the atmosphere, I love it! I got to the pub at Arsenal about 5 where I met fellow premature Gooner, Goonerholic for a pint or more before the usual lot arrived. There was a bit of a last minute panic in the last half hour before kick off as lasagnechef snr. called to say the traffic getting into North London was a nightmare and he wasn’t going to be able to make it. A gutting feeling, he missed out last year and now again this year thanks to some accident. Shit happens unfortunately but through one person’s misfortune I was able to make someone else’s night. A friend of a friend who was with us in Barcelona last year took the spare, back in April he made it all the way to Spain, all the way to the Nou Camp to be denied access with a perfectly legitimate ticket. I can’t imagine how gutted he must’ve been to get all that way to not get in for the sake of a ticket that wouldn’t scan, so I’m glad that in some way I could help him make up for it on Wednesday night.
So we got in eventually after a bit of a nightmare and the ‘Emirates’, as I’m now beginning to get used to referring it to, was absolutely rocking. When the teams came out it was a wall of noise and a sea of red and white flags to greet the players. Just like last year it had the feeling of 60,000 excited and hopeful Gooners ready to sing their team all the way home.
The noise last night was probably better than last year in parts. There were quiet periods of the game when it looked like the game was slipping away from us and nothing seemed to be going our way but we picked ourselves back up again and the noise late in the second half was incredible. Just watch this for instant goose bumps.
I was looking for us to start well and we did getting the first decent chance of the game very early in. I believe it was Fabregas who played a chipped ball over the Barca defence for van Persie who’s shot was blocked well by Valdes. It was a good start and you could tell we were more than up for it. The visitors had plenty of the ball but we were expecting that and had our ways of trying to deal with it. Barca’s passing was too good though and with that kind of quality it doesn’t matter how resilient your opposition is, you will create chances eventually. In the 15th minute Messi was put through by Villa and the Argentinean’s little chip over Szczesny trickled just wide of the post. It was heart in the mouth stuff as you saw the ball roll towards goal, from my angle you couldn’t tell whether it was in or not so I was more than relieved to see it go wide.
Just before their opener we had a great chance on the break. Walcott fed Fabregas on the right who crossed it in for van Persie who had an open goal and a back tracking defence to beat but Abidal stretched and just got a head on it to take it away from Robin. Just a minute later Messi weaved through our defence and put Villa through on goal, he simply slotted it under the ‘keeper and it was 1-0 Barca. It was a shame to see them score but they had been the better side and you couldn’t deny them the lead.
At the time I thought it was offside and along with everyone around me and the linesman on our side was getting some abuse. 10 minutes later Messi bundled the ball in the back of the net with a header but it was flagged offside. I have since seen that he was onside so maybe that heckling with the official paid off and influenced his decision. Barcelona fans wouldn’t be very happy with that if they were reading but it’s the nature of playing at home, fans can influence decisions.
At the break I was in a similar position to last year – in admiration of Barcelona’s football. There’s no doubting that they really turn it on in the first 45 minutes and it was the case on Wednesday. Unlike last year we couldn’t keep the clean sheet up to the break but I was still confident we were still in it. We were unlucky not to have gone closer ourselves but we could’ve been two or even three down at half time on a bad day so I wasn’t too upset. I tried not to think too much about conceding an away goal but it was inevitable really. Anyone that manages to not concede against this Barcelona side is either incredibly good at defending, really lucky or they’ve got those really small 5-a-side nets or something.
We started the second half well, had a couple of shots early on but Barca soon took control again. They had a few chances to extend their lead but every time we escaped conceding. Szczesny looked composed and was making himself big in front of goal; he was helped by great performances from Djourou and Koscielny, the latter having probably his best game for the club and a strong contender for man of the match.
With just over 20 minutes to go Wenger went for it. The visitors took off Villa (striker) for Keita (defensive midfield). We did the opposite taking Alex Song off who was riding his luck a bit on a yellow and brought on Arshavin. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I was starting to worry we weren’t ever going to get back into it. I know we always leave it late but I can’t handle us leaving it late! In the 77th minute we made another sub, Bendtner replaced Walcott who had a decent game but was obviously targeted along with Fabregas by Barcelona and wasn’t allowed much space or time. So we had three creative midfielders in Wilshere, Nasri and Fabregas and van Perise still coming through the middle. He was flanked by Arshavin on the left and Bendtner to his right a bit more infield with Eboue making runs up the right. It was an attacking formation but one that paid off.
A minute after that sub, we equalised. Gael Clichy with a right-footed chipped assist believe it or not put Robin through into the box. He was at a ridiculous angle but caught out Valdes blasting it inside the near post. It took half a second for Robin, the rest of the players and the fans to realise it had gone in, but when we did we went mad! Finally, the breakthrough. A slice of luck there that RVP’s shot went in but he definitely meant it, he’s one of few players confident enough to go for a shot like that and if you don’t try you don’t get.
The visitors were rattled and the fans were urging Arsenal forward. All we needed was that opening goal and we were away. 5 minutes later we won the ball in our final third and quickly got it to Fabregas who spotted Nasri free on the right and sent him right through to attack the opposite box. When the defence caught up with him I though for a second that the chance to counter had gone but Samir picked out the pass I don’t think any of us saw and Arshavin came charging in with a composed side foot curler into the opposite corner.
I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went absolutely crazy, one minute I was on the floor of my seat and the next second I was up and had fallen over into the row in front! Everyone was celebrating with no limits and you can’t blame a single person, we’d just taken the lead over the beat side in the world and were on the brink of a famous victory. It was jubilation like we’d just seen the coming of age of this side. I looked to might feet to search for my flag, this one one souvenir I wanted to keep! It had somehow survived my trampling and I tucked it into my seat to be safe
There was one little scare before the end but we held out and completed a 2-1 victory. Magic. It meant so much to everyone, players and fans and I’m so glad I was a part of that. Everyone was so happy (and relieved) at the final whistle, however someone behind me had bloody nicked my flag hadn’t they! I found another but you can’t help but think when you see grown men walking out of there with five or six flags in their hand that eBay was going to be busy in the morning…
It was a great performance from the lads. We were outplayed for large portions of the game but we stuck to our game plan and it worked. We were devastating on the break and we showed we can match Barcelona’s build up pass for pass. The second was described by the ITV commentator as ‘a Barcelona goal, for Arsenal’ but we score goals like that all the time. You can draw comparisons with the Catalans and us but we’ve shown before we can play just as well as them.
Jack Wilshere was incredible and I’m so proud of our 19-year-old. He had a challenge from Koscielny but he’s definitely my man of the match. Fabregas was quieter than you would’ve hoped but Barca knew how dangerous he was and had him on watch. They weren’t expecting the teenager to be so brilliant though and he bossed the midfield. A midfield made up of some of the best players in the whole World. This is only his first season in the first team and there is much more to come from him. Well done Jack, we fucking love ya!
The all round performance was superb, we did everything we could and I’m so, so proud of us. Nights like these just make it brilliant to be a Gooner, we might not be the very best but when we really get to it we can be special and compete with anyone. We’ve beaten Barcelona and not a lot of teams can say that.
We go into the second leg with belief that we can do the job and we’re in a great position to. The away goal means Barcelona will still be favourites but if we can keep the defence as tight over there and get a goal we’ll give ourselves a massive chance of knocking out the big boys. We might have Vermaelen back for that trip too. As Cesc points out, it is only half time but I say just enjoy this one off victory for the moment and look forward to the second leg in due time. We’ve by no means won this tie but we’ve shown we’ve got what it takes.
Just quickly some injury news and Djourou hurt is back in the game and will sit out Sunday’s FA Cup game. Walcott has a mild hamstring problem but should be okay, I can imagine us resting him and anyone else with niggles anyway. I’ll preview the Leyton Orient game tomorrow.
Thanks for reading guys. Ooh to, ooh to be, ooh to be a Gooner!