Arsene Wenger was forced to defend some of his recent purchases and “big buys” when questioned by a slightly agressive journalist in one of the Reading pre-match press conferences on Friday morning.
Wenger looked tired and frustrated before the press conference even began, which is probably the result of a testing week in which he has been heavily featured on the back pages of all the major tabloids and in which many fans (and some of his former players) have questioned his ability to continue to manage the club.
In the end, Wenger was rather short with the journalist, who was clearly trying to provoke a response with continued questions about players that we maybe shouldn’t have bought in the last few seasons. Gervinho, Chamakh, Santos, Park and Squillaci are mentioned by name, although there are probably a few more names that could be thrown into the mix.
Below are some of the more interesting moments from the conversation, taken from a transcript of the press conference published in the Mirror. Wenger defends the purchase of players like Chamakh and Squillaci by saying that they are international players who cost him next to nothing (indeed, Chamakh was free). However, this isn’t enough because the journalist then begins to attack our wage bill. Eventually, Wenger jokingly says that Arsenal will sign Lionel Messi in January, although you can be pretty sure that this was just because he wanted to get the journalist to shut up and stop harassing him.
Although I do think that the journalist went a little bit too far and was verging on rude, Wenger needs to be able to answer these kind of questions. He is under a lot of pressure and the questions will only get tougher if Arsenal continue to perform the way that they have been over the past few weeks.
Wenger: “The squad needs just to focus on the next game. Today, I will certainly not talk about transfer targets. We have a strong squad. I believe we have a very strong team. It’s down to us to prove me right.”
Journalist: “Can you understand the concerns of the supporters generally at the moment?”
“Have you see a reaction from the players since Tuesday?”
“I have had groups who had fantastic results who were less serious than these players, believe me. Players who were less focused than this team.”
“And they won trophies?”
“What’s the difference now between this team and other teams which have won trophies?”
“The difference is that we have created a new team. I believe that some players have come in, some players have come back from injuries and we have to show now until the end of the season that we have the quality that I think we have.”
“So are those players hurting if they’re under performing?”
“Of course these players are hurting.”
“If these players are much better are you disappointed with some of the players you’ve bought over the last three or four years?”
“Well, you don’t want to name names do you?”
“You name them.”
“Well, Gervinho, then. Gervinho, Chamakh, Santos, Park, Squillaci. Some of those players were big buys. What’s happened to Park? It’s an extraordinary situation.”
“Who are the big buys?”
“He was £8m.”
“Well, do you feel he is fulfilling his potential at the moment?”
“Gervinho is a good player, yes.”
“Is he at the top of his form?”
“I don’t want to go into individual assessments.”
“But generally are you disappointed with the level of signings? Generally? These players are nowhere near as good, are they?”
“Chamakh was a big buy? He was free. Squillaci nearly free. You cannot say that we have a squad of no quality. They are international players.”
“I could miss from two yards, but Gervinho is not supposed to.”
“You can and everybody can.”
“You have the fourth highest wage bill in the Premier League, behind Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Leaving aside however much they cost, Gervinho and Chamakh are earning big money. Are the players offering value for money?”
“Yes. First of all, you don’t know their wages. Secondly, you accuse us of not paying the wages the players want and on the other hand you accuse of giving them the money they want.”
“Can you and will you buy big in January?”
“We will buy Lionel Messi in January and we will surprise you.”
Even after the signings of Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin, the news this morning is that Arsène Wenger is looking to steal yet another student of Barcelona’s La Masia academy. La Masia is touted as the best academy in the world; it is famous for producing the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Lionel Messi. The problem that Barcelona have is that players who graduate from the academy are aware that such brilliant players are ahead of them in the Barcelona squad. Most are unlikely to make it into the first team any time soon. For this reason, many graduates look at moving elsewhere in search of more game-time. Arsenal seems to be one of the top destinations. The club have a similar playing style to that of Barcelona and a great track record of working with youth players.
The player in question this weekend is Gerard Deulofeu – the 17 year old Spanish winger/midfielder plays for the Barcelona B team and Spain’s U19′s. It is no secret that Arsenal’s chief scout, Steve Rowley, traveled to watch the U19 European Championships in Switzerland to monitor the progress of several young players. Among the players was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Rowley is also said to have been taking a particular interest in Deulofeu.
Deulofeu’s style as an attacking midfielder and winger has drawn comparisons to Ronaldinho. He is well known for using his pace to cut inside defenders, makes runs into the box and is said to have a good eye for goal. It is possible that Arsène Wenger sees him as a potential replacement for Andrei Arshavin who, at the age of 30, is no doubt nearing the end of his Arsenal career.
The fact that Wenger seems to be signing many youngsters (Toral, Bellerin, Jenkinson, and potentially Deulofeu) will please many Arsenal fans who sense that the club is looking to the future. That said, Wenger is yet to sign a world-class defender or striker. Although all these new young signings are brilliant – I would like to see a few more “big name” signings join the club first. The club’s short-term needs need to be satisfied before Wenger looks to the long-term.
Last night, Arsenal were completely outclassed by one of the best teams ever. The 3-1 scoreline honestly doesn’t do Barcelona any justice. Gooners often see Arsenal control a game for 90 minutes, with slick passing and loads of great chances. The 2-0 victory against Wolves was one such match. Although we get the three points, Wenger sometimes rues the missed opportunities, as the scoreline could have shown the true difference between the sides.
Against Barcelona, the scoreline could have been record-breaking. Arsenal were stunned, pegged back in their own half for the majority of the game. Granted, many Arsenal players had poor performances. Mix that with Wenger’s lack of tactical nous, and the fact that Barcelona had a very good game, and you end up with an incredibly one-sided affair.
Barcelona deserved to go through, no doubt. They were the better team on the night and, despite our great performance at the Emirates, the team couldn’t match up to the Spaniards in their own back yard. At Ashburton Grove, Barcelona still controlled possession, although we had more shots in that game. Overall, there should be no complaints. We lost to a fantastic side.
How are they so good?
The pundits were waxing lyrical about how ‘everyone speaks of Barcelona’s attacking prowess, but never the defensive side of their game.’ What a load of rubbish. Since Guardiola came in, the Spanish outfit have been well-known to press high up the field with great intensity. But last night was particularly impressive. Whenever an Arsenal player had it in his own half, two or three Barcelona players would be swarming round him like bees within a few seconds. They must have great tactical awareness to achieve this synchronised pressing. Most managers would say that it would leave gaps behind them, or tire them out. This brings me to my next point.
Apart from the last 5/10 minutes of the game, Barcelona never stopped this crazy pressing. Even then, they continued to press, just at a reduced level of ferocity. I don’t know how they did it, but not only did they have great pace on the attack, but great endurance in defence (although we didn’t really force them to defend very much). I guess the Barca players must take turns in pressing, but it was still a remarkable feat.
Xavi has talked about the ‘fear factor’ since the game. I think he is 100% correct. Everyone knows that Barcelona are dangerous away, but almost perfect at home. They destroyed Mourinho’s Real Madrid 5-0. Ronaldo barely touched the ball that game. Barca have a knack of stopping their opponents playing. Part of this is due to their style of play. But a lack of confidence and belief, due to fear, must have a big impact.
Fans – awful at Emirates, unbelievable at Nou Camp
In London, the Barca fans were pretty quiet. Even when they scored, they seemed quieter than most away fans this season. Perhaps they are used to playing big teams, so they get so excited. Anyway, their fans were very loud last night. Forget that RVP complained that he couldn’t hear the whistle, we could hear the fans through the TV. And they booed when Arsenal had the ball. Which wasn’t very often. But this must have made it difficult for Wenger’s men to stay focussed.
Quite simply, they have the best players in the world. They play football in the most effective way. They are cocky, but have a right to be. They CAN be beaten, but not at their own game. Man Utd, Chelsea and perhaps even Spurs could get past them in the Champions League. It would be difficult, and would take a lot of luck (like Arsenal had – otherwise it wouldn’t have ended only 4-3 on aggregate!). But what exactly would it take to beat them? What did Wenger fail to do?
How to beat them…perhaps…if you’re lucky
It’s no secret that Barcelona lack height. It doesn’t really matter, because they don’t lose the ball too often, except for goal kicks and kick offs, after having scored. But Bendtner showed us that a bit of aerial presence can cause problems for the Catalans. Had Wenger started with Chamakh and Bendtner (because RVP was clearly unfit), or subbed on the two tall guys a bit earlier, then we would have had a better chance.
This isn’t just aimed at Fabregas, although he managed to ruin all our good defensive work in the first half. He was trying to create space for a counter attack with a clever back heel, but he ended up setting up the first Barca goal. The fact remains that Arsenal were very cautious when it came to clearing the ball. If you hit the ball high and far, it will force Barcelona to run backwards in order to collect it. If they don’t all move back as a pack, it could stretch them. Either way, it can’t be bad. Arsenal’s clearances were far too short, which didn’t give us time to regroup.
Pin back their full-backs
Barcelona are great at playing down the centre, as we saw for the second goal, and on many other occasions. However, their pacey full-backs have an incredible impact on the game. When they push up, they stretch the opponent’s defence. This allows Messi, Xavi and Iniesta to work their magic in the centre of the field. If Wenger had played a 4-3-3, or a 4-5-1 with faster wingers (e.g. Eboue, Arshavin), then this could have been prevented. Rosicky offered little attacking threat, and was poor in defence. As a side point, Wenger should have put Nasri on the right, Barcelona are weaker there. Alves forced Samir to keep tracking back, in a way that Adriano wouldn’t have done as much.
Be bold, stick a few up front
This relates to the point on height, but it could have also helped Arsenal’s fitness. If Wenger had played with two or even three up front, Arsenal’s midfielders would have been much more comfortable. Diaby, Fabregas and Wilshere kept bombing up and down the pitch. This must have tired them, which surely affected their performance in the second half. With more strikers up front, Arsenal could have held up the ball from clearances, and we could have pressed them more successfully when they passed it along the back line.
Yet, we came so close
At 1-1, with Arsenal having snatched a goal from a corner, the game was neatly poised. Barcelona were playing much better football, but Arsenal were hanging on. The first half saw fantastic performances from Djourou, Wilshere and Koscielny. The defence stood strong and reduced Barcelona to few chances, despite their advantage in possession. Then, the ref lost the plot and sent of RVP. It’s important to note that the Dutchman was having a poor game, but great players can change matches in an instant. If he had stayed on, anything could have happened, but we wouldn’t have deserved it.
Even at 3-1, Arsenal simply needed one goal to go through, on the away goal rule. Bendtner had a brilliant chance to score that goal, but took a poor touch when a first-time shot could have gone in. But we can’t dwell on that, Barcelona missed plenty of good opportunities. Almunia was fantastic, and he helped prevent Barca finishing the tie.
Poor refereeing over both legs
“How could I hear with 95,000 [people] screaming? It was a total joke, it had a big influence on the outcome of the match. I could understand it if I shot six or seven seconds after his whistle but it was one second. The referee was bad all evening.”
Robin Van Persie made this comment after the game. He was right, the referee was bad. But we have to be fair, he was bad for both sides. Barca could have got a penalty in the first half. The referee should have given more cards, because both teams made challenges that merited such a punishment. Abidal probably should have received a yellow, or maybe even a red, during the brawl in the first half, when he grabbed Van Persie’s neck. Now that would have changed the game.
In the first leg, Barcelona could have been given a penalty and another goal. Djourou handled the ball in the box at the Emirates, and Messi’s goal COULD have been given (although I reckon, with video replays, the ref would have given offside).
What can we take from this? That referees need help. They are only human, and video replays are now a must. For example, the two points we dropped against Sunderland could have been avoided if Arshavin’s legitimate goal had stood. Wolves scored four against Spurs on the weekend, but one of them was incorrectly disallowed. Rooney should have had a straight red card for his elbow a few weeks ago. Newcastle’s superb comeback was courtesy of a few poor refereeing decisions. Chelsea’s Luiz should have seen red against Utd. We could go on and on. They say that decisions even themselves out over the course of the season. This is such a subjective comment, there is no proof that it’s true. If the FA want football to be a modern, fair sport, then video replays will provide an even playing field to all teams.
The media response – Wenger’s excuse?
The media have immediately hit out at Wenger. They claim that the manager, and most Arsenal fans are bitter about the red card. Well, I think Wenger, the players and the fans know that we didn’t deserve to go through. We are angry that such an appalling decision was made, and given that football is such a crazy game, anything could have happened if it was a match of 11 vs 11 for 90 minutes. But let’s not dwell on that – we have Man Utd on Saturday, and it’s an incredibly important match for confidence, for the possibility of a trophy and it could dent Fergie’s title hopes if they lose three in a row.
This is the 3rd time in 5 seasons that the two sides have met. Barca came back from a goal down to beat us in the final 5 years ago.
Tomorrow’s match is without a doubt the biggest game of the season so far (bar the Carling Cup Final). As a loyal Arsenal fan, what I am going to say next might come across as slightly nonsensical.
We don’t need to beat Barcelona. If anything, progression into the next round of the Champions League could significantly hinder our title challenge. Our players have only had one week in 2011 that hasn’t involved a mid-week match, and even then we had many players in international games. This has taken its toll on the team; we have suffered from injuries to many key players (Walcott, Fabregas, RVP, and Song).
These integral members of the team have been unavailable for crucial matches this season. You might say that this is something that Gooners have come to expect, but it is always painful to see Wenger’s team missing superbly talented players when they take to the field in important matches.
We have already beaten Barca 2-1 at the Emirates with a stunning comeback which, in my opinion, more than proves that we are up there with the best. Losing to “the best team in the world” at their home ground can be forgiven.
Even if we beat the Catalan giants, I still don’t think we will win the Champions league. Lets not forget that a win against Barca will only put us through to the quarter finals, and there are some very tough teams (for example Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid) who will be waiting for us.
I also think that, as a direct result of progression, it may be more difficult to win the Premier League. The players will be too tired, having played at least two more mid-week matches. Nobody remembers the semi-finalists. If we are not going to win the Champions League, it is better to be out at an earlier stage and focus on something I think that we can win – the league. If we have fewer games, there will be fewer injuries. Wenger himself has said that the Barcelona game has been on players’ minds during the last few weeks, and could have affected recent performances. Who can blame them?
I’m not saying that we can’t win the Champions League. I’m just being realistic. The Premier League represents a much better chance for silverware, and I would hate to see us squander the opportunity to challenge for the title due to more injuries picked up in European matches.
Should we win against Barcelona, we can ignore practically everything that I have just said. I would love nothing better than to win at the Nou Camp, and I will probably celebrate as though we have won the whole competition. Should we lose, I won’t be entirely disappointed. Losing could open up the opportunity for us to knock United off their perch at the top of the table.
Arsenal’s form has been a bit patchy since the game against Barcelona at the Emirates. It includes a draw against Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, a loss to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final last weekend, and a goalless draw to Sunderland at the Emirates. However, we still remain top of the Premier League form table – taking 14 of a possible 18 points from our last 6 matches.
As we could have guessed, Barcelona have won all of their games since they lost in London three weeks ago. They have only lost 2 of their last 24 games, and sit 7 points clear of Real Madrid with a far superior goal difference. Lionel Messi is (obviously!) the player to watch, with a staggering 43 goals already this season.
A few days ago, Wenger told us that he expected Robin Van Persie to be fit for the game against Blackburn when the players return from international duty in four weeks time, yet only a few hours ago Arsenal confirmed that RVP has been included in Wenger’s 18-man squad to travel to Spain. He returned to training this morning, and seems to be running without any problems. This will be a massive boost for the team, as Van Persie, easily the best striker at the club, adds a bit of spark and creativity to our front line.
Cesc Fabregas is expected to start, having overcame an injury that has kept him sidelined for the last 10 days. “It is 90% he will be fit. His return is vital, he is important [in linking] attack and defence.”
Jack Wilshere, who had an injury scare on the weekend, is also included in the squad, but Alex Song and Theo Walcott will be hugely missed. Song has not recovered from a knee injury, and Walcott will be sidelined for several more weeks with a twisted ankle.
Despite returning from a loan spell at Cardiff, Aaron Ramsey is not included in the squad travelling to Spain.
Arsenal face a makeshift Barcelona defence. Several key players are missing, including Victor Valdes – out for several weeks with a sprained knee.
Skipper Charles Puyol has failed to recover from knee problem, while fellow first-choice centre-back Gérard Piqué is suspended. However, Pep Guardiola still has two world-class defenders who can be called up to the first team, Eric Abidal and Gabriel Milito.
Xavi suffered a muscle injury against Athletico Bilbao and was expected to miss tomorrow’s game. Despite that, he played at the weekend against Valencia and will play at the heart of Barca’s midfield tomorrow night.
Pep Guardiola returns to manage the team, after spending 5 days in hospital with a herniated disk.
Wenger normally plays a 4-3-3 formation. The only change I can see him making is possibly allowing the left and right attacking players (in this case, Rosicky and Nasri) to drop back into part of the midfield, thus essentially creating a 5-man midfield. The logical thing to do is to play Denilson as part of a 4-3-3. That said, Denilson has been relatively poor over the last few games and Wenger may want to play Eboué (who was excellent in the first leg) as the attacking winger if he chooses to have five in midfield.
I would love Van Persie to start, but this is depends on just how fit he really is. The chances are that Bendtner or Chamakh will play as the front-man, because Robin is unlikely to be fit enough to last the whole game.
Wenger, who talked to the press earlier today, has confirmed what we all already knew. “We’ve not got enough security just to sit back and defend; you can’t go to Barcelona and play for a 0-0. Anyway, it’s not the personality of my team. This game has been hanging a bit over the heads of my players but our focus is on it now.”
Predicted score: 3-1 Barcelona
I hate to be pessimistic, but we have to be realistic. Despite winning the first leg of the tie, we are still very much the underdogs. In the corresponding fixture last year, Messi scored 4 goals to give Barca a place in the semis. Our centre-backs will have to work extremely hard to keep the Argentinean goalscorer at bay.
Only days after that memorable night at the Emirates, rumours are already flying about our prestigious number 8. His contribution this season has been immense. But that can only mean one thing, right? As with all Arsenal players, the moment things look good, the media shout out to all and sundry that the Gooner will soon be a goner.
So what did Samir actually say?
“I’m always flattered when my name is mentioned in connection with any big club, but I also know how things work… As things are right now, I am happy here and I have confidence from the manager. But things can change quickly in football, and then we may have a new situation.”
Nasri also alluded to the fact that him and Wenger are waiting until the end of the season to discuss his future. I think we can almost guarantee that our French winger will receive an improved contract.
“At some point I would like to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid, but I would prefer to play for Barca, because I prefer their style.”
Nasri has 16 months left to run on his contract. He has also stated his desire not to leave Arsenal until we win the league. Therefore, the media have decided that if Arsenal win the Premier League this season, then Nasri is off to Spain. What a load of rubbish. Firstly, do Barcelona want or even need him? He’s a top player, but he plays in Messi‘s position. No offence to Nasri, but he isn’t quite at Lionel’s level. Not yet, anyway.
So what can we gather from these rumours? Nothing. So ignore them, as I’m sure you all have, and let’s look forward to the clash with the Premier League titans that are Stoke City. This video should be enough to get you excited for the game.
Despite a strong start to 2011, Arsenal have failed to impress in these matches. However, Arsenal have defeated Chelsea, Everton and Barcelona, produced a great performance against a defensive Manchester City and walked past Wigan, Wolves, Birmingham and West Ham. How can Arsenal’s performances be so varied? Well, it seems quite obvious to me – Arsenal’s second string is quite simply not good enough.
Bendtner, Arshavin, Chamakh, Denilson, Rosicky, Squillaci have featured in almost all the disappointing performances. Each player has been severely off-form. That isn’t to say that these players are rubbish – far from it. Bendtner scored some key goals last season which kept us in the hunt for the Premier League title. Chamakh started the season brilliantly, netting ten goals in all competitions. Denilson is a great passer and Rosicky was one of our most creative players before his injury. Arshavin is a superb talent, and it is important to note that he is coming back to form, but he was very poor between early-October and mid-January. I wish I could say that Squillaci isn’t rubbish, but he hasn’t really been very effective for Arsenal so far. He was a decent player for Sevilla, but will he ever be good enough for Arsenal?
So are all these ‘good’ players the reason for a bunch of awful results? In my opinion, there is no doubt. The form of the front trio of Bendtner, Arshavin and Chamakh is so frustrating to watch. Firstly, Bendtner and Chamakh should both play down the centre, so sticking the Dane on the wing only serves to reduce his effectiveness (which isn’t particularly high anyway). Arshavin, who is regaining confidence, needs to sharpen up in the final third. His goal vs Barcelona was spectacular – very powerful and accurate. Unfortunately, he was unable to reproduce that skill against a weak League 1 side. Less profligacy in front of goal would have led to a comfortable scoreline.
It wasn’t that Arsenal were inferior. Possession was massively in our favour, and the Gunners had three times as many shots as the opposition. The problem seemed to be that Arsenal’s players lacked any drive to play at their peak. Do these players want a chance in the first team? Do they want to play Barcelona? On the back of this performance, not only are they not good enough, but they back up their lack of skill with a lack of passion.
The first half was very slow – Arsenal had over 70% possession after 30 minutes of the match. Denilson was the culprit for a lack of creativity as he continued to pass the ball backwards or square. He did make the most passes in the match, with 133. But what use are those passes if they aren’t incisive? Wilshere made less than a third of that number of passes against Barcelona, yet his passes were always effective. There were very few chances in the first half, because whenever Arsenal reached the opponent’s box, Bendtner or Chamakh would try a long-range shot which would either get blocked or go very wide.
The second half wasn’t much better. Rosicky scored his first goal since primary school with a header after 50 minutes or so, but we failed to capitalise on that. Chances came and went, with little urgency from the players. The game seemed over, so Wenger didn’t bother using the array of talent on his bench. However, with only minutes left to play, Tehoue danced through Arsenal’s defence, before unleashing a great effort… which went under Almunia. The keeper doesn’t have to make a save all game, and he lets that shot go under him in the last minute. I don’t get it either. Maybe he doesn’t want to be in contention to face Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp. Don’t worry Manuel, you aren’t.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Leyton Orient for never giving up. The players will receive a trip to Las Vegas for their efforts. They played with determination and passion – something that Arsenal’s second string should learn. One advantage of a replay is that Bendtner and co. will get some more match time, because I highly doubt they will be featuring in any of the big games that are coming up in the next few weeks.
Following Wednesday’s unbelievable win against one of the greatest teams in the world, I thought I would share a few things that I learnt about the team:
1) After the thrashing we received from Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp last season, the bookies clearly didn’t favour Arsenal. At half time, the odds on us winning the game were 16-1 – which is probably the equivalent of a team like West Brom coming from behind to win against United.
2) Clearly the gap between the two teams has decreased significantly. Last season we were extremely lucky to come away with a draw at the Emirates. In first half an hour Almunia saved us on countless occasions. This season we did exactly what Wenger wanted us to do. We beat them at their own game. The the most important moment was when he swapped Andrei Arshavin for Alex Song. You can’t sit back and defend against Barcelona, because they will create chances. Their defence is the weakest part of their team, and Arsenal found the gaps and scored two great goals.
3) The team showed a huge amount of grit and determination – something that we have been lacking significantly in previous seasons – and were able to step up and provide a good performance in such a big game. Even at 1-0 down, they kept their heads held high and pressed for the goal.
4) Laurent Koscielny is improving at a magnificent rate. He did a fantastic job, especially considering he was playing against Messi and Villa. The nervy mistakes that we saw at the beginning of the season are occurring less and less.
5) Jack Wilshere is the player the club has been waiting for. He looked completely comfortable on the ball, and could have easily been wearing a Barcelona shirt. He completed 93% of his passes during the game. Only Xavi and Iniesta boasted higher passing success rates.
6) Robin Van Persie continues his fine run of form and, should he stay fit for the rest of the season, will be key to our success in all competitions.
However, looking forward to the game in just under 3 weeks at the Nou Camp, there are a few things which worry me. Barcelona have scored 62 goals in the 20 home games they have played so far this season. Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet away from home since March 2008. In addition, a 1-0 victory for Barcelona would see them go through to the next round on away goals. Will Arsenal be able to play so well in the hostile environment of the Nou Camp? It all comes down to Wenger’s tactical expertise, and whether or not our key players will be available.
Arsenal defended brilliantly against one of the best players in the world
Wenger said Arsenal would keep to their philosophy. It is his philosophy, the one which has turned the North-London club from a long-ball team into one of the best footballing teams in the world. Wenger picked a very strong team, and took the risk of starting Samir Nasri. Wenger made bold substitutions against a side who can turn defence into attack in a second. Wenger got the tactics spot on – he allowed Barcelona possession but pressed them hard in the centre of the pitch. He allowed the Maxwell and Alves to get high up the pitch, but ordered the relevant opposing full-back and winger (e.g. Clichy and Nasri) to tackle (not press) the moment they got the ball. This rendered Barca‘s marauding full-backs pretty useless.
But tonight was just as much about Wenger as it was about the players, not to mention the fans. The atmosphere was incredible, buoyed by the pre-match videos and the flags given to all Gooner fans. Every player stepped their game up tonight. The performances of Wilshere, Nasri, Koscielny, RVP and Clichy were so good that our magical captain didn’t even seem so spectacular.
Just a note about the atmosphere – I was shocked at Barca’s fans tonight. They were very quiet throughout the game, especially compared to Shakhtar, Braga and Partizan fans. Perhaps their fans are used to playing top teams, so they don’t get so excited. Still, it was a bit of a surprise.
On the other hand, Gooners were fantastic. Even at 0-1 down, they kept on chanting and the support once we got the equalising goal may have been a factor which pushed the team on for the winner.
The match started at a high tempo, with both teams pressing very sharply. Arsenal carved open the first opportunities, thanks to two excellent runs from Theo Walcott. Firstly, he sprinted from his own half, gliding past the opposition, before trying to lay the ball into RVP’s path. The pass was too firm, but the intent was positive. The second run took great skill and pace – Theo darted around the Barca players on the edge of their box, before squaring to Cesc. Our captain flicked the ball over the defence to Van Persie, but his shot was well blocked by the keeper.
But it wasn’t long until Barcelona started to take hold of the game. They were keeping the ball superbly. The match ended with the Spaniards having 60% possession (or 53% if you believe BBC, but I think they calculate ball retention very poorly). Even when we lost at Stanford Bridge earlier this season, Arsenal had more than 50% possession. It was very unusual watching the Arsenal players chasing after the Catalans, but it gave us an insight as to what it feels like to play against Arsenal!
They created some great chances, most notably those that fell to Messi and Pedro. Messi was released behind our defence by Villa, and his pace took him away from Koscielny (who should have been marking the Argentinian). The stadium went silent as the little magician flicked the ball over Szczesny, but his shot bobbled past the far post. A sigh of relief was followed by jeers from the Arsenal fans towards Messi. He endured this throughout the game, because despite some great runs, he was profligate in front of goal. However, it was Lionel who touched the ball through the heart of Arsenal’s defence which allowed Villa to poke the ball through our keeper’s legs for the first goal of the game.
The rest of the first half was pretty even. Although Barca passed the ball swiftly and accurately (the away fans even started ‘wahey-ing’ after each pass they made during a 3 minute spell of possession), Arsenal’s counter-attacks (arising from intense pressurising) were breathtaking. On another day, both teams could have scored more goals before the break, but the half time score remained 0-1 to the Spaniards.
Arsenal came out in the second half with more purpose. For the first 15 minutes, Arsenal were fully in control, cutting through Barcelona’s midfield at will. Wilshere was outstanding – he kept the ball in tight situations, completed a wide range of passes, tackled effectively and his dribbling was Iniesta-esque. Walcott’s pace continued to cause problems for Maxwell, even when we entered the next 15-minute phase of Barcelona pressure. It was during this time that Wenger brought on Bendtner and Arshavin, for Walcott and Song. Song, who had been booked very early on, had been very good. Unfortunately, it always seemed like he would make a rash challenge which would result in a sending-off, but he managed to make it through the rest of the game without too much trouble. This substitution was bold, because Song had been superb at blocking Barcelona’s swift attacking moves.
Fortunately for us, the substitutes provided us with excellent performances. Arshavin and Clichy combined down the left wing, and then the left-back lofted the ball over the defence to RVP. His shot flew in-between Valdes and the near-post, but the sheer power and accuracy of the strike was very impressive. Only minutes later, after having blocked a surging Barcelona attack, Arsenal produced a stunning, game-defining counter-attack. The ball fell to Bendtner outside his own box, and he played a precise pass to Wilshere, who in turn found Cesc in space. Fabregas played a sensational ball to release Nasri behind Barca’s defence. As Nasri slowed down, Gooners may have thought that the chance was gone, but Samir picked out Arshavin on the edge of the box and his first-time shot swerved into the net.
Szczesny 8, Clichy 8.5, Djourou 8, Koscielny 9, Eboue 8, Song 7.5, Fabregas 8.5, Wilshere 9.5 MOTM (didn’t lose the ball against Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets – incredible), Walcott 8, RVP 8.5, Nasri 8
Substitutes – Both players weren’t given much time to shine… Arshavin 7.5 (scored the winner, but also almost let Alves have a chance in the dying moments!), Bendtner 7
Congratulations should go to the manager, the staff, all the players and the fans for one of the best results in recent history. It is matches like this that can give players the confidence and belief to forge that winning mentality which we have often been accused of lacking. Well done Arsenal – next up is the mighty Leyton Orient in the FA Cup.
This is the third time that Arsenal have faced Barcelona in the last 5 seasons. Losing to the Spanish giants in the Champions League final still burns deep in the minds of Arsenal fans, but the 4-1 thrashing at the Nou Camp last year simply emphasised their superiority over us.
This season promises to be different. The team looks ready for the demanding game that will take place tomorrow night. We need to take full advantage of the home leg, because Barca won’t do us any favours in Spain in three weeks time. They have an imperious record at home, and everyone will remember how Messi came alive in the second leg, after being rather subdued at the Emirates last season.
Without a doubt we have been dealt the most difficult draw. However, if we fail to progress to the next stage of the competition, but Spurs do manage to beat AC, there is no doubt that their fans will hold it against us. Many will remember the DVD release after they beat us 5-1. The PR team at White Heart Lane would have a field day if they managed to go further than their North London rivals in this prestigious competition.
The odds are heavily stacked in Barcelona’s favour, but our current form has been impressive. Fabregas and Wilshere will be playing against a World Cup-winning midfield, but they have ripped most Premier League defences to shreds this season, so there is always hope. This is the area that will undoubtedly be the most crucial and will dictate the way that the teams play.
Samir Nasri, who has been out for the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, which was picked up in the FA Cup match against Huddersfield, is included in the squad. Our stand-out performer this season, who returned to training yesterday, was originally thought to be out for much longer. His inclusion in the squad is a huge boost for the whole team.
“Samir is in the squad and the starting line-up will be decided tomorrow. He’s recovered quicker than expected. I said it would be 21 days but it will be only 17 days… Everybody is absolutely adamant that he’s completely medically available. It’s down to me to make the decision.”
I suspect that Nasri will start on the bench. I doubt that Wenger will risk playing him, because I think that it is more important to have a fully-fit Nasri as we look to challenge for the Premier League title and the domestic cups. The Carling Cup final is less than two weeks away and we sit only 4 points behind Manchester United in the league.
Abou Diaby is not available for tomorrow’s game after he picked up a calf injury while on international duty with France, but Tomas Rosicky returns to the squad following illness.
Messi vs Van Persie
The difference between this Barcelona game and the corresponding fixture last year is that we have a fully fit (and flourishing) Robin Van Persie. Van Persie has scored 9 goals in his last 5 games – a record number of goals in the first two months of a Premier League season. Johan Cruyff has tipped Van Persie as the player to lead Arsenal as we look to exact revenge for the 6-3 aggregate defeat to Barca last season.
“He is good on his right foot, even better on his left and decent in the air. As well as being a good player in excellent goalscoring form, he is fresher than anyone else having come back from injury in December.”
However, Messi is also in fantastic form, with 40 goals already this season. The Argentinean is probably (maybe joint with Christiano Ronaldo) the best player in the world at the moment. He put 4 goals past us in the second leg last season, so we need to be defensively strong and hope that he has a really bad game. There is little merit in man-marking him, firstly because he is far too skillful and fast, and secondly because they have so many other fantastic players. To take advice from the coach who led Sporting Gijon to a 1-1 draw on Saturday, Arsenal’s players should try to stop Barcelona getting down the wings. He advises Barca’s opponents to force them inside so that they can’t use their pace to exploit the opposition.
From the table, you can see that Van Persie’s stats are not that different from Messi’s in terms of goals per minutes played, although his shooting accuracy could definitely be improved. It is important to note that Van Persie has played far fewer games due to injury. Messi has been playing very well for a prolonged period of time. This is what RVP needs to do in order to be considered as one of the best players in the world.
Puyol vs Koscielny
Puyol is set to miss the match tomorrow, but I thought I would throw in some comparison with Koscielny just to highlight that, although he has come under some criticism so far this season, our French defender has had a good start to his Arsenal career. Koscielny has improved significantly in recent weeks thanks to his strong partnership with Johan Djourou, and we have kept five clean sheets in our last seven league games. His defensive stats this season speak for themselves.
Looking at the table, it would seem that Koscielny has better stats than the Barcelona stalwart. He makes plenty of interceptions and wins the majority of his tackles. However, these statistics are possibly a bit unfair on Puyol. Barcelona probably have less defending to do as they keep the ball so well.
There is also the possibility that either Bendtner or Chamakh will start if Wenger wants more of a physical threat.
Emmanuel Eboué will replace Sagna as right-back. Sagna is suspended following a red card in the game against Partizan Belgrade in December.
My prediction isn’t solely because of the scoreline last year. I think that we potentially have a good chance against Barca (we are stronger than we were last year), but both sides could nick a win. It is definitely more likely that Barcelona will control the game, but as a Gooner I am optimistic that we can do well!
This was the game we all wanted to avoid. Nobody wants to play the biggest name in European Football at the first knockout stage.
There were only four possible teams we could play. Real Madrid would be very tough opponents, and Bayern Munich reached the final last season. I wanted to draw FC Shalke…
But it seems that this season is not going to be our season in the Champions League. I highly doubt that we can beat Barcelona over 2 legs. Lionel Messi will run riot on our leaky defense, especially if Vermaelen has not recovered from his injury. 4 goals last time out, and already on an astonishing 27 goals this season, he will always be the one to watch in this fixture.
It is possibly that we will be knocked out of the Champions League before Spurs, who drew AC Milan.We are having a really bad day!
The Champions League fixtures for the round of 16 are as follows: