Seldom do games with huge pre-match euphoria, live up to the billing and provide the quality of football expected of them. That said; seldom do teams of technical expertise as high as Arsenal & Barcelona square up. Unlike the finals in ’06 when Jens Lehman was sent off early in the game, there were no such anti-climatic blips this time around. Not initially at least. The quality of football served over the 90 minutes, was what dreams are made up of. The ‘beautiful game’ had its finest hour (and a half!) by the time the game ended with two goals apiece. Wenger said before the game that it had ingredients to be the ‘best of the decade’. Boy was he right or what!? 11G delves in..
All the hoopla regarding the home-coming of Titi and the supposed conquering of ‘Emirates’, by Mr. Messi were put shut by two players from the team in ‘red and white’. Now any Barca fan reading this would surely gun for my life, but then, I AM GOONER. Can’t help!
“Cesc reiterated his ‘legend’ as Walcott began his.”
Cesc Fabregas re-bonded with his childhood club & proved all his detractors wrong, of his decision to choose Arsenal over Barca, by a second-half showing as good as any seen in recent times. No he didn’t score a blinder, or skip past 5 people like Leo does, to set up someone, or for that matter ran the show like the likes of Zidane used to do in their prime. He is a CAM & he didn’t do any of the above, and yet he stole our hearts by fighting till the end. A lucid combination of ‘graft & craft’ is what makes him the champion that he is.
After having received a yellow just before the first half drew close, his exasperation could be felt, as he knew right away what implications that booking had. He was denied a chance to play at Camp Nou, with his family and friends in audience, as a result of the subsequent one-match suspension. Mere mortals could have withered away in agony and allowed the mighty Catalans to further tighten their grip on the game. He chose to write a script which had the word ‘legend’ written all over.
Over the course of the next 45 minutes, he ensured that both Pique & Puyol too missed the return leg with bookings of their own. A yellow and a red respectively, with the latter leading to a penalty which helped Arsenal draw the game by a whisker. Who took the penalty? No prizes for guessing, El Captain himself. A ‘Cescy’ display from our skipper indeed.
Next player to have made an impact was the guy with No. 14 on his back. Yes, Henry was influential when he came on, but only to the Emirates crowd! He was fittingly given a rapturous applause as he joined his team with some 15 minutes to go, & almost comically was booed right after, as he led a Barca attack. I’m sure he got the pun behind it.
“No issues Thierry, we have never seen anyone like you, & will forever love you.”
But Henry was not the only one donning No. 14 behind his back. One certain Theo Walcott came on for Sagna & changed the game on its head. Up to then it was all one way traffic as the Catalans ran riots at the ‘Grove’. If it were not for Almunia’s pyrotechnics, the tie would have been over in the first 16 minutes itself.
It was fantasy football as Messi & Co. totaled a staggering 12 shots in the first quarter. It was ‘men v boys’ all over again. Save after save, the Spaniard took us back to the CL Semis, first leg, from last season, when he single-handedly kept us alive. It was history repeating history.
Apart from a snap shot courtesy Nasri, and a missed header from Niklas, we had nothing to show from the half. The yellow to Cesc further compounded our problems. Wonder what Le Professor had to say to the lads at HT.
22 seconds into the 2’nd period, Ibra picked a long-ball & lobbed a dead-for Almunia like he would’ve done a 100 outta 100 times. If that was not all, the second Barcelona goal came courtesy a through ball which Ibra latched onto with equal aplomb. Two neat finishes from the Swede.
Now I won’t blame Almunia for either, as he could have done little. With a defence as profligate as ours, what more do you expect. Ok, he could have made a better judgement with the first goal by not coming forward like he did, but after his heroics in the first half, let’s allow him the gaffe. He is Almunia after all!
Coming back to the No. 14 conundrum, the introduction the Englishman gave Arsenal an urgency they were looking for all along. He found acre full spaces behind Maxwell to run onto and that he immediately did after coming on. Minutes later, Bendtner slipped in a delightful through ball for Theo, at which he took a shot early, much to the surprise of Valdes. Arsenal got the goal, against the run of play if anything. If that was not all, with some 10 minutes to go, Puyol nonchalantly fouled Cesc in the penalty area. A red card later, albeit harsh, Arsenal made one of the greatest comebacks in recent times, against a Barcelona side at its prime.
It was heartening to see the Gunners keeping at it till the very end, like it has been a trend this season. This further highlights the new-found resolve and resilience in the present edition of Wenger’s youthful ensemble.
Injuries to Arshavin & Gallas rule them out for three weeks at least, whilst latest reports suggest Cesc is out for the season. What a tragedy would that be.
Clichy, Song & Nasri pulled off performances to remember. Diaby needs a shaking though.
Whatever it be, the duel between Arsenal and Barcelona was a ‘treat to the eyes’ with everyone returning home happy. Barcelona got the away goals they wanted, Arsenal made the comeback it needed to re-instill the faith. This sets up the second leg beautifully.
Fabregas, Gallas & Arshavin will be notable absentees for the Gunners, whereas Pique & Puyol will join them in the stands for the Catalans.
How Arsenal line-up for that game, we’ll take that soon, for now time to ensure a victory at Wolves. Go Gunners..
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