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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gunners gunned down by Barca and Massimo.. Sorry, Massimo who?

Barca's 1st goal of the night, courtesy Messi

The more you would want to watch the 1st leg between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates, the less appreciative you will be after watching the 2nd leg at Nou camp. Shambolic performance by Arsenal and one Swiss citizen on the pitch. No, this guy isn’t from Arsenal or Barcelona. This was the man officiating the game who hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons more than Barcelona who deserved it for all the right reasons. In the end there was only team which deserved to go through and rightly so Barcelona moved to the next stage in the competition.

After the 1st leg there were voices which described Arsenal’s performance as ‘something special’. The phrase ‘Arsenal coming of age...’ has been used umpteen times and for once Arsenal had a chance to live up to that but they failed miserably. And miserable is such a small word when you want to describe Arsenal’s performance. I am being very critical of Arsenal here and because I believed if the giants had to be slayed, it had to be done at this stage. As they move forward they are only gonna grow with confidence. And with Arsenal’s impeccable record in this season’s competition, 21 goals, better than any other team, Arsenal had to score.  But no Arsenal player had a single shot – on, off target or blocked which was highly disappointing.

The question was did Arsene Wenger give up even before the game began? Or did he arrive with a defensive strategy? Or was it that Barcelona were simply too good for Arsenal? The 3rd reason is very much true and I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. If anyone does, my only suggestion would be to watch the game again if you haven’t already done so. Arsene Wenger isn’t someone who quits even before a game has been played, but the feeling is that he got his strategy wrong. Without a natural DM in Song it was a costly mistake to play defensive football against Barca but Barca are so good at keeping the ball that it would be very difficult to play football!!. No shots on goal was as disappointing as it can get but Arsenal have no one but themselves to blame. The below stats point out as to why Arsenal had a poor poor night.

  • Barcelona had the ball for 49’ 3” while Arsenal had control for 22’ 41” of the game.

  • Barcelona completed 724 passes versus Arsenal’s 199.

  • Arsenal completed 71% of their passes while Barcelona’s completion figure was 90%

  • Barcelona's midfield trio was Javier Macherano (95 passes, 86% success), Xavi (133 passes, 90% success) and Andres Iniesta (105 passes, 92% success)

  • Arsenal's midfield trio was Abou Diaby (24 passes, 88% success), Jack Wilshere (33 passes, 79%success) and Cesc Fabregas (30 passes, 70% success)

  • No Arsenal player had a single shot  - on, off target or blocked. Seven Barca players had attempts on goal - including both full - back.

  • Barcelona recorded 21 shots - 12 were on target, five off target and the remainder were blocked.

  • In his 56 minutes on the pitch Robin van Persie had attempted eight passes.

  • The Dutchman had not touched the ball in the oppositon penalty area.

  • The only Arsenal player who logged an average position in the opposition half was substitute Andrey Arshavin.

  • Arsenal committed 19 fouls to Barcelona's 8. Five of those fouls were attributed to Jack Wilshere.

  • Manuel Almunia has conceded ten goals in the 271 minutes he has played against Barcelona in his career. That's a goal conceded every 27 minutes. 

Van Persie's plea falling on deaf ears

UEFA champions league which is considered to be one of the world's biggest competitions, has been repeatedly setting low standards in refereeing and this game was no exception. Massimo Busacca, a Swiss referee is well known for handling the UEFA cup (now Europa League) in 2007 and the final of the Champions league in 2009. But after his bizarre peformance in this game how did he handle such big profile games remains a mystery. The sending off of Robin Persie for kicking the ball after the whistle was blown though is correct by the letter of law, was an aboslute ridiculous one. Not an ounce of common sense was displayed by the referee and the fact the time between the referee's whistle and the shot was one second rubs salt into the Arsenal wound. It was the key decision and the wrong one. No-one will ever know what the outcome would have benn but it certainly had an effect on the course of the game as it is hard enough to play Pep Guardiola's side with 11 men, let alone 10. He sent off the wrong man, while Laurent Koscienly was having a field when he should have been sent off not once but twice, once for a tackle on Pedro which resulted in a penalty and then for a tackle on Xavi. Also how could he have missed the tackle by Abou Diaby on Messi which was a clear penalty, raises doubts not only on the referee's calibre but also UEFA for letting these men handle such crucial games. Micheal Platini should have a dig at his own men before he even points fingers at players, managers and club officials.

Game over, Champions league dream washed away, where do Arsenal go from here? This loss is a boon to Arsenal as it lets them concentrate and keep them fresh for the remaining premier league games and the FAcup which might lead them to the elusive silverware. With Manchester United losing 2 games in a row, the league title is wide open and Arsenal will ot get a better oppurtunity than this. It's upto Arsene Wenger and his boys not to repeat the mistakes which has eluded them of a title for 6 years.

Till then the wait cotinues when everyone can say without doubt 'Arsenal have come of age.....'

P.S.: Special thanks to Justin and Jenson. This post is the result of the small but fruitful discussion we had on Fb. Hoping to have many more of them.. :)

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