Few nights of Champions League football even come close to what we witnessed at the Camp Nou last night. Barcelona’s comeback is one of the greatest in the history of all sport, let alone European football.
For all that excitement and carnage that sent the football watching world into raptures of astonishment and endless tweets exclaiming their sheer love for the sport, the first leg brilliance of Paris Saint Germain should not be forgotten. Although Unai Emery had a shocking night tactically in Spain, his team were wonderful as they thrashed Luis Enrique’s Barcelona 4-0 to give the Catalan side the opportunity to perform such a ludicrous comeback.
One player who shone brightly during the first leg was Adrien Rabiot. Having been touted as one of the world’s best young players for several years, the Frenchman came of age against Barcelona, dominating the middle third throughout.
He made four interceptions, three tackles, a key pass and completed four dribbles as the Ligue 1 champions tore Barcelona apart. Rabiot produced an all-action central midfield performance as PSG overpowered Barca, showing his game to be more rounded than many would have ever given him credit for. Featuring in the centre of the midfield trio, Rabiot was flanked by similarly superb performances from Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi.
Rabiot is still raw, performances will fluctuate and his role will change, but the signs are there that he could finally be on course to reach his potential. While PSG will see him as a player to build their team around, potential suitors will surely have seen that performance and wondered if they can lure him away from the French capital. Not so long ago there was talk that a move away from the club was on the cards, in fact.
One team who must be in the running is Arsenal. A midfield imbalance has haunted the Gunners for years. Failure to sign defensive midfield players has been an almost clichéd criticism. Granit Xhaka could yet be the man to patrol in front of the back four, while Francis Coquelin’s continued importance in the squad epitomises the problem. Without Santi Cazorla available, however, Arsenal lack a player capable of spreading the ball quickly from deeper midfielder areas. Xhaka has the capability to do this, but his defensive deficiencies are currently holding him back.
It could be time for a change of tact from the Gunners. Rather than searching for a perfect midfield pairing, a midfield three may offer the best balance. Although this will force Mesut Ozil into a wide playmaker role (assuming he remains at the club) it gives the side that all important balance in the middle third along with the necessary flexibility. Xhaka, Cazorla and Rabiot would make for quite a formidable triumvirate.
An in-form Rabiot has a wider range of attributes than any current Arsenal midfielder. The inconsistency of Aaron Ramsey has undermined his claim for a starting berth, while Coquelin and Elneny both serve a purpose as backup players. Rabiot, though, has the engine to press high and make third-man runs, along with the technique to build up from deep and spread the play. He might yet be Arsenal’s long-term answer to Cazorla’s injury woes and could be the ideal foil for Granit Xhaka.
A transfer may not be plausible after his first leg display against Barcelona – although his calamitous second leg might make PSG think twice about keeping him at the club – but Arsenal should be in any potential market for Rabiot. His career has stagnated over the last couple of seasons, yet he is still one of the hottest young properties in world football. At only 21 years old, he will only improve further.