Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona: Sweet Delirious Whooping

Posted by SmartArse

We at COTA have been a little lax of late, but were well and truly roused by what can only be described as a gob-smacking win against Barcelona. I watched the game, then I watched the highlights and celebrated, again, as Arshavin calmly planted home the winner. The above headline sums it up, I’m too happy to even try a pun.

The way we started the game typified our approach. It’s not just that we worked hard (Cesc Fabregas ran around 6km in the first half alone), we actually believed we could take them on. The football was confident, our pressing organised. Both teams had decent openings. An off-colour Lionel Messi had the best chance of the opening exchanges, but we created the first; some great play by Walcott and then Fabregas setting up Van Persie to test Valdes from a tight angle.

Then out of nowhere Barca scored, Clichy just playing Villa onside and for the next 25 minutes they were mesmeric. Their passing, led predictably by Xavi was unreal. Understandably, when you have so little possession you try too hard to make things happen when you do get it. A possibly (probably to be fair, but its all just semantics really) unfairly disallowed goal and a decent stop from Pedro by Szczesny were needed to keep us in touch.

At half time I could see no light. We were playing a million miles better than the same tie last year, but we just couldn’t get the ball. Clive ‘hyperbole’ Tyldesley was in full flow with in no way pre-prepared one liners, “the magic roundabout is starting to spin” or “I’m no expert in geometry, but I know a triangle when I see one”

And then came the second half. The key was not just the hard work, but the belief. For long spells in the second half Barca dominated the ball, but we kept playing and largely looked like the team more likely to score, without quite finding the cutting edge. Then just as suddenly as they scored in the first half, so too did we. Clichy, a one-footed footballer who struggles to cross with his left, clipped a glorious ball with his right to Robin van Persie who twatted it in at the near post from a ridiculous angle.

Did he mean to shoot? He definitely had a little look at the keeper before royally bladdering it past Valdes, who looked like an absolute mug. Not sure he expected to score exactly, but it just goes to show the value of whacking it on target and being in such good form you fancy a crack from basically anywhere.

But if the first was a tad fortuitous the second was sublime. A wonderful threaded ball across his own box by Bendtner of all people went to Wilshere, then immediately to Cesc who pinged the ball of the night in space to Nasri, who cut inside from the right and showed magnificent awareness to play the difficult ball to Arshavin and the Russian casually curled it home. It was a thing of beauty, a fair bit like our second against Wolves but in far, far more gratifying circumstances. The Emirates exploded and I just lost it. It wasn’t cheering it was more wooping, delirious wooping pogo-ing around like a meerkat on poppers.

They only had to step off the gas a little for us to capitalise, so closely were the teams matched on the night. Before this game our biggest and best win of the season had been Chelsea at home, a dominant performance of both hard work and flair, but that was against half the side we played last night. Barca were great and we still beat them. We edged a tight game – on another night the little things could have gone their way, but as we well know that’s football. Sometimes you make your own luck and our boys certainly did that last night.

A couple of players were utterly magnificent and rightly all plaudits today are going to Jack Wilshere. I’ve heard various brilliant pass completion statistics, but the the only time I remember him giving the ball away was when Eboue sent a throw in right at his gonads 30 yards from our own goal. Time after time he wriggled free, outnumbered as midget Spanish midfielders swarmed around him. He dictated play, drove forward with the ball and scrapped with the rest.

If Jack was man of the match Laurent Koscielny can’t have been far behind. In the second half he seemed to attract the ball like a magnet. When he doesn’t have to worry about being outmuscled he’s really an excellent player – his timing of the tackle is superb and he’s great on the ball. When Vermaelan comes back he’s still third choice for now, but he’s got serious potential to build on. Comfortably his best night in the shirt.

Serious credit too to Le Boss. Even with Song on a yellow its not his style to be so proactive with his substitutions. Bendtner’s presence made Valdes jump out of the way for the first and Arshavin (who looks a different man) stroked home the third.

Those wishing to burst our bubble quickly resort to ‘well I’d like to see you do it at Camp Nou’. If we bring the same intensity and class I really don’t see why we can’t do it. Barring one half of a half we matched them step for step. The away goal isn’t that important, because I think we’ll definitely score. Problem is they’ll almost certainly score too. It seems crazy that we have to wait three weeks and hopefully pick up a trophy before we can head out there, so you can only hope the players can keep focused for that whole period.

Either way, at the very least we’re going to make an immense fight of it, better than pretty much anyone in Europe could right now and I can’t ever ask more than that.

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