Arsenal found things tough against Barcelona on their home patch earlier this month, enduring a 2-0 defeat at the Emirates in the first leg of their daunting Champions League tie, and things didn’t get much easier at the Nou Camp.
Indeed, a superb curling strike from Mohamed Elneny gave Arsenal fans something to cheer for but the Catalans hit the Gunners for three at the other end – courtesy of one goal apiece from Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, in an incredibly convincing 5-1 aggregate win.
Some might argue tonight’s game was always a foregone conclusion, but we at Football Fancast believe there is something to learn from every match, be it a Round of 16 Champions League tie between two of Europe’s top clubs or a non-league derby on the boggy Hackney marshes.
With that in mind, here are FIVE questions that have been lingering on our minds for some time that tonight’s performance and result categorically answered.
Generally speaking, yes. Although if commentators are going to mention the fact the 19-year-old is Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew every time he’s on the pitch – for the 100,000th time – I sincerely hope he never makes an appearance for Arsenal again.
There is certainly something cumbersome and Danny Welbeck-ish (Danny Welbeck on a bad day) about the prodigious Nigerian forward. But perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid is that he didn’t look out of his depth at the Nou Camp against the most formidable side in world football.
He offered Arsenal movement and penetration on the counter-attack and didn’t shy away from getting involved in front of goal, taking two shots and creating two chances for the north Londoners.
Don’t get me wrong, Iwobi is still very much a rough diamond – and some fans are rightly asking why Joel Campbell wasn’t issued a chance to impress instead. But the young attacker showed his potential tonight and Arsene Wenger is clearly a big fan, having selected him for such an important role in such an important game.
Not if they meet Barcelona at any stage which, knowing the recent luck of Premier League clubs, will almost certainly happen in the next round.
Indeed, there probably isn’t that much to choose between Arsenal and Manchester City at the moment – in fact, they’re currently separated by just one position and one point in the Premier League table – but the Gunners are at least relatively stable at the back, whereas City have been all over the place this season.
Arsenal conceded five against the Catalans and in truth, it looked like the reigning champions didn’t even hit top gear, producing their quality in small bursts rather than dominating throughout the entire 180 minutes.
So amid news that orchestrating skipper Vincent Kompany will be sidelined for at least a month with a hamstring injury, the Citizens’ chances of lifting the title are quickly plummeting towards zero.
Let’s not get carried away just yet. One goal – admittedly one incredible goal, at the Nou Camp of all places – doesn’t make a career.
But the Egypt international demonstrated the kind of technical quality more befitting of Barcelona’s incredible front line as he made Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s net ripple on the 51st minute mark, running into space just outside the box to curl into the Barcelona No.1’s top right corner.
The January signing certainly looked energetic in midfield but once again, you wonder whether he’s actually the kind of player Arsenal need – more a box-to-box than a monolithic enforcer of the William Carvalho variety.
Perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky are all set to leave Arsenal this summer, so midfield additions are needed regardless of what roles they play.
But he’s still not resolved a long-term problem for Arsenal and like many Wenger signings, remains some way off the finished article.
Well, tonight was certainly Danny Welbeck’s big chance to prove he should be Arsenal’s first choice frontman and it may initially seem that he failed to deliver, unable to get on the scoresheet despite having five chances at goal.
That being said, poor finishing has been a recurring issue throughout the England international’s career and an inherent weakness everybody accepts. The more positive aspects of his game, however, really stood out tonight.
Indeed, compared to the anonymity of Theo Walcott and static styles of Olivier Giroud, Welbeck added real dynamism and energy to Arsenal’s attack, linking up well with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi and always looking to stretch play on the counter.
He’s clearly not a forward you can pin all of your goalscoring hopes on across an entire season, but the 25-year-old could prove a real asset for the Gunners for the remainder of the campaign – especially with the incentive of earning a place in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.
My personal opinion is definitely – although Arsene Wenger has been surviving crisis after crisis at the Emirates for the last few years.
Of course, you can’t really blame the Frenchman for losing to Barcelona but this result does epitomise Arsenal’s increasing limitations under his leadership. They’ve now been eliminated from the Champions League at the Round of 16 for six seasons in a row and Wenger’s overall record in the tournament, despite qualifying for it every year, is relatively poor, having reached the final just once from 18 attempts.
And of course, the Gunners’ failings in this season’s title race are impossible to ignore. If Wenger can’t win the Premier League crown with Chelsea out of the picture, Manchester United caught in purgatorial soul searching and Manchester City struggling to perform, it’s hugely unlikely he ever will.
There was a real last-chance saloon, final hurrah feeling about tonight’s game. Should dissidence towards Wenger continue to grow, that may well have been his last game in the Champions League.