Was the scoreline Barcelona 3-1 (4-3 aggregate) Arsenal ever really a surprise in the Round of 16 Champions League second leg?
The funniest thing of the whole match is the fact that Barcelona actually had more shots on their own goal than Arsenal did (for the record Arsenal had no shots on target – their goal came courtesy of a Busquets own goal).
But for all of Barcelona’s wonderful passing the match really only seemed to be inches out of Arsenal’s grasp. If Arsenal took their late chance and made the scoreline 3-2 it would have been Barcelona left with the loss. What strikes me more is that if Van Persie had stayed on the park (and he most certainly should have) Arsenal may not even have conceded all three goals.
Using that segue, I’ve always thought of Massimo Busacca as one of the best active referees, but the second yellow (and the first, actually) was a real blunder. The whistle was blown only seconds before Van Persie struck the ball, jumping the gun if you ask me. But, the decision (and correct me if I’m wrong) was for deliberately wasting time by kicking the ball away. If he is still in the motion of pushing forward then is that really deliberate? We see strikers finish a shot long after the flag has been raised for offside and I’ve yet to hear a complaint – but I digress.
I think the biggest problem Arsenal had was simply that they weren’t Inter Milan – and couldn’t replicate that success last year. Inter’s ‘victory’ over Barcelona was the result of tactical genius, but, wasn’t possible without solid and disciplined defending. Unfortunately, Arsenal just don’t have that defensive mentality. Sure, they held out well for most of the first half, but when they got the ball they couldn’t hold it – and that’s where they failed. ‘Parking the bus’ so to speak has always seemed to frustrate Barcelona’s fluid football, but the advantage Arsenal have is a strong counter attack and they just didn’t capitalise on their strengths when they had those opportunities. The team naturally play forward, so giving the ball up is only ever going to lead to a goal being conceded. Once Barcelona got the first goal they were always going to get another.
It’s strange how Arsenal were so comprehensively outplayed and yet were only a strike away from going through to the next round and I see the same thing in the Premier League for them. They constantly have the opportunity to strike the top of the EPL ladder and always give it up. If Arsenal are going to start winning trophies again they need to get a bit of venom in their bite. Whether they have the ability to bounce back from the League Cup loss and this to win the EPL remains to be seen, but I’m calling a victory over Manchester United will be required to do so.