We often talk about turning points in matches, occasionally we even talk about turning points in a season. Sometimes we only can tell later if we were right to ascribe such a description. I don’t know if last nights game will turn out to be a turning point, but it certainly has many of the characteristics to be one.
Let’s be clear. Barcelona are the team against which every team is judged, and found wanting. I’ve seen a few exceptional teams over the years, and they are the best that I’ve seen. Last night they played well, very well. They can be criticised for not scoring more during the time when they were dominant, and for little else. At times their inter-passing is mesmerizing. As many have said, when they don’t have the ball that they are also exceptional. To say that they work hard to get the ball back is an understatement. The first half display was not as dominant as the first half of the game at the Emirates last season, but that was down to Arsenal, and the way we attacked them when we had the ball, and defended when we didn’t. Even then, although we too had our chances, it looked like they were just too good, and would win the game, and just about ensure reaching the quarterfinals.
The second half belonged to Arsenal. We wrested control away, and only gave it back intermittently. Despite our endeavours, our chances to score were few, and time was running out. Substitutions were made, and van Persie scored from an ‘impossible’ angle, the tide had turned and Barcelona were happy to try and hang on for the draw. Then a goal of some beauty, even though it looked as if the chance had all but gone, Nasri pulled the ball back and there was Arshavin hitting it first time past everyone and into the net.
It is only right that we celebrate, it is a famous victory, but I loved the way that Wenger and Fabregas took the victory, and pointed out that it is just halftime, and the job is not done yet. Going to Camp Nou with a slender advantage gives us an opportunity to progress to the next round, but Barcelona are formidable opponents, and we will have to play extremely well again to knock them out.
I’m sure that today the players are very tired, they had to put in a monumental effort. They also will feel pretty good, because their efforts paid off. Arsenal can be proud. We have beaten the best team in the world, and done so by playing football. It is amazing that we ‘only’ had some 30+% of the possession, yet managed to have more shots, and more on target too. We showed that we are able to mix our game, and transfer the ball forward more quickly than they did, to good effect.
All the players were impressive, even if they weren’t all at their best, but some should get special praise. Djourou and Koscielny were both very good, Koscielny grew into the game and was outstanding. In midfield Wilshere was our star. To play against the outstanding midfield players in world football, and to match them at 19 is exceptional.
It is only halftime. The game at Camp Nou will be very difficult, and I’m sure that there will be a titanic struggle for control. We may be knocked out, we may progress, but whichever it is Barcelona will know they have been in a game, and that they have been challenged in a way that few teams could even aspire to. Well done Arsenal.
Bring on Orient