On Wednesday afternoon, "The World's Best Team" walked into the Emerites Stadium with intentions of repeating last year's (6-3 aggregate) beat down of Arsenal. The Gunners had other plans...
Barcelona did what they usually do: hold on to possession, press the back line up, hold on to possession, use Lionel Messi to create scoring opportunities, hold on to possession, score with their unending list of playmakers, and hold on to possession. Oh, and hold on to possession, thought I forgot that one...
This worked well as Messi connected with David Villa early in the first half to give Barca a 1-0 lead. However, Arsenal did not do what every other team tries to do against this high-powered team. The did not sit back and let Barca control the game, they did not pack it in on defense, they attacked, with fury.
Regardless of what Messi would do with the ball, the Gunners played hard. They had hard tackles, were physical, and attacked the weakness of Barcelona, their wing backs. Theo Walcott went right at the left back Maxwell, immediately when the game began. He attacked with no legitimate resistance from Maxwell. The Arsenal right winger was able to create countless opportunities for Robin van Persie and Co. to attack the net of Victor Valdes. On the other side, Nasri and Arshavin used the same tactics against Dani Alves, who is a good back going forward but is incredibly overrated as a defender. Between Nasri, Walcott and Arshavin, an Achilles' heal was found in a way to attack this seemingly unbeatable team. No matter what was thrown at them, Arsenal held strong, and played great defense forcing 9 offsides calls against Barcelona.
Finally their offensively minded gameplan payed off when Gael Clichy played a great ball to van Persie who ripped a shot from a tough angle past Victor Valdes who made a terrible mistake in net by allowing such a shot to have a chance of going in. So, with 12 minutes left, Arsenal had evened the scoring at 1-1.
Five minutes later, Samir Nasri ferociously attacked the box with a great run to set up the trailing Andrei Arshavin who easily placed the ball into the side netting for the winner with only 7 minutes remaining.
Lionel Messi and David Villa did not play very well despite the early goal. Aside from that, they were pretty quiet during the game. I don't expect this to happen again in the second leg of the series.
This was a well deserved win, as Arsenal out shot Barcelona despite getting beat in time of possession (ASL- 39%, BAR- 61%).
This game might have unlocked the game plan to beating Barcelona, and what we learned is that teams with great wingers can put a lot of pressure on Barca, who cannot respond with their lack of good outside back. The Gunners three headed monster of wingers is a great core group attacking on the outside, but if a team such as F.C. Bayern with world-class wingers like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller; look to see if this strategy can send Barcelona reeling.
*Gerard Pique will miss the next game due to accumulated yellow cards
In other news, AC Milan was stunned at home with a 1-0 loss to Tottenham as they must not go on the road to get a big win. Valencia and Schalke played to a 1-1 draw. AS Roma was also shocked by the Ukrainian Champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, who won a deserved 3-2 victory in Rome.
Next Tuesday, Chelsea goes to København with their recently acquired forward Fernando Torres. Lyon hosts Real Madrid. On Wednesday, Marseille hosts Manchester United and in a rematch of last year's Champion's League Final, F.C. Bayern travels to Inter Milan.