Barcelona 4-1 Arsenal (6-3 agg)
You’d have to be as blind as a bat not to enjoy football the way Barcelona play it, and you’d have to be blind as a bat and as mad as a bag of eels if you didn’t enjoy individual excellence as purveyed by Lionel Messi last night. He was truly mesmeric, a “PlayStation player” as Wenger put it. Arsenal had no answer to him or his peerless teammates.
We were beaten by the better team, and sometimes there’s not a lot more to it than that. In the post match interviews, Wenger admitted it, Bendtner admitted it, Almunia admitted it. Messi is a freakishly good player who has the good fortune to play in a freakishly accomplished club side.
But it was still a chastening night for Arsenal and, I suspect, for Wenger too. Over the two legs we were well beaten, and if Barcelona is the side that we aspire to emulate – and they certainly should be – then we have some way to go to get there.
Of course, it’s very hard to say what the outcome would have been had we been able to play our first eleven. We were well short of key personnel and last night it showed. Despite a promising start – at one point there was the tantalising prospect of going 2-0 up, but Diaby didn’t spot Walcott in acres of space and moments later Messi lashed his opener in – we were largely outplayed. Look at the possession stats on Gunnerblog and you’ll see how hard Arsenal found it to get the ball and keep it.
There was plenty of spirit but a few too many errors. We couldn’t hold onto the ball, and while we harried better when not in possession than we did in the first leg, Barcelona did it so much better. It’s so rare to see a team that fights as hard to get the ball as it does to keep it as them.
Out wide, Rosicky and Walcott struggled to get a foothold. Whether the former was fit or not – he was 50:50 before the match – I don’t know, but neither he nor Walcott could get into the game at all and they found it impossible to do much with the ball when they did get it.
Wenger’s next job is to pick his bedraggled troops up for the trip to the Spuds next week. Fortunately we have a week to recover.
Namely, how can we be more like Barcelona?