In the most anticipated football game of the year, the stage was set for players to seal themselves as cult heroes amongst the crowds of admiring fans. In the end, a Dutchman and a Russian set the telling blows into the Barcelona juggernaut. Despite the Catalans losing the game, the match was that entertaining that the result really didn’t matter.
It was poetry on a pitch. The world’s greatest players from the greatest footballing side in the world were there. It’s almost like a checklist. Messi, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Pedro, Alves. Check. Even though people were commenting that Arsenal probably knew that they lost the game before it even started (Arsenal fans were waving white flags with the club badge on it before the game, try find a better example of irony), Arsenal weren’t upstaged. Oh no, their stars played spellbinding football.
At half time, people were critical of Wenger and his tactics. While they are sometimes labelled as Barca-lite sometimes, they tried to play the brand of football that made the 09 UEFA Champions League famous. While it looked impressive, it wasn’t quite the same as what the Spanish team were producing. Sometimes, Arsenal were relegated to chasing shadows as Barcelona played the ball up and down the pitch and from side to side with ease.
In the first half, 95% of Iniesta’s passes were on target. Not to be outdone, partner in crime Xavi played 51 passes before half time, an incredible 48 of them finding a Barcelona player. On half an hour, Barcelona kept possession amongst themselves for 5 whole minutes, the play broken until Messi strayed offside. The beauty of the simplicity of Barca’s style made everything look fantastic. From Xavi spreading the ball out for Pedro to run onto or Villa or Messi continually providing through ball after through ball for each other to pounce on, it’s simply a joy to watch these fantastic individuals complete short passes or just maintain possession. It’s the complete opposite of the actions of a git who calls himself captain of AC Milan the night before.
Arsenal didn’t do what many sides would do against Barcelona, that’s to park the bus and play 10 men behind the ball at all times. Arsenal didn’t crumble under the pressure of the ruthless, never ending fluency of Barca’s play. They took the punishment and kept on fighting. Their players weren’t upstaged either. Fabregras was like a quarterback, firing off his repertoire of passes. Van Persie continually tested Valdes and finally found a way past him with a thunderbolt from an acute angle. Nasri fired warning shots off to the Barca defence all night until Arshavin latched onto the end of one of his passes. Walcott was ruthless on the end of passes from Fabregras and Wilshere.
And that leads me to the man of the match. Who would have thought that a 19 year old would have shone on a pitch full of superstars? Wilshere drove at the heart of the Barca defence at every opportunity that he got. He constantly found pockets of space to fire passes off to Nasri or Walcott on the flanks. Barcelona claim that they won’t go for Fabregras in the summer transfer window. Maybe they’re now keeping the locker that was reserved for Cesc for Wilshere. He’s suddenly the brightest English football prospect since Wayne Rooney. Capello wants to play Wilshere as a new Claude Makelele. That would be an absolute waste of the talent that the boy has.
A thunderbolt volley and an exquisite side footed shot did cause an upset in the end. However, Arsenal were magnificent for the majority of the night and the victory marks another psychological leap forward for the North London outfit. The chances for Arsenal to win an EPL title within the next three years has never looked better. While question marks are still raised about the defence (compliments must also go to Szczesny, the Polish keeper was fantastic on his Champions League debut), the midfield and forward line of the Gunners is arguably the best in the league. Arsenal to catch up to Manchester United 4 points ahead of them on the table could happen if Arsenal keep up their momentum until the end of the season. The clash against Manchester United on the 30th of April could be the decider for the title.
In the end, when the final whistle blew at the Emirates, the result really didn’t seem to matter. Even though Barca lost, they still still seem to hold the advantage of the tie. Barcelona played like gods and Arsenal fans will now brag that they beat arguably the best football team the world has ever seen.
Meanwhile, we all watched on in awe as 22 men stroked a waterproof sphere around a rectangular piece of grass. 90 glorious minutes of football meant we were all able to set aside our problems that we may have in our lives.