analysis | 2016-02-24
Match Report: Arsenal 0:2 Barcelona - The merit of making excellence the norm
Barcelona disarm the Gunners with two goals from the Argentinian and a fantastic collective performance.
The Champions League is the best tournament in the world for matches just like today’s. The great Barcelona of recent years always struggled at the Emirates Stadium, even while displaying good football. And this Arsenal squad has reasons to threaten any rival, despite the weaknesses shown in the English championship. Especially in the first half, the gunners competed on equal terms.
Wenger proposed a box-to-box clash as the way to face the current European champion. From the kickoff, his players executed a medium-high pressure in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Oxlade covering Iniesta. As usual, In their attacking efforts, the key player was Mesut Özil. Looking to receive the ball behind Busquets’s back to launch the transition, the local team tipped their offense to the left flank, where Alexis Sánchez was overexcited. Arsenal ran and Barcelona suffered, without getting edgy.
As the minutes went by, Luis Enrique’s ranks settled on the opposite field. They slowed the game down and they started to attack and defend with ball possession. The full backs provided width and the trident closed in on the goal. Busquets got involved in the build-up plays, occupying the left zone where Özil was defending. Barcelona were managing to play near Arsenal’s box, but they were lacking spaces and ideas to give the last pass when facing the Gunners’ wall. Arsenal were already defending in their own half, displaying their most competitive version of the last years with an active Özil, Giroud playing with his back to goal and with a rampant Alexis. Wenger’s team had their chances, but the most dangerous one belonged to Suárez near the halftime whistle. The first half was played at a very high level.
In the 49th minute, Walcott replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain due to physical issues. The defensive systems were more loose, and there was a gap between the lines and the goalkeepers. Neymar opened the ball wide to Suárez, who made a pause and passed it back to Neymar at the precise time. The Brazilian could’ve finished the play himself but Messi was stepping in the area in a more open position. The Argentinian feinted the shot, a key movement in the goal, and then beat Cech for the first time in his career. A counterattack for the ages. In the trading-punches match, the trident emerged once more at the right time to knock the opponent down.
Barcelona lured the locals to come out of their area, moving the ball all over the pitch and making Arsenal wonder if they should take a step forward, as the scoreboard demanded it, or be more cautious as the game required it. It did not matter. Messi would rise again. This is his territory. He received the ball, contributed to the possession, knew when to launch the counter attack, he foresaw the action and where the rejection was going to go in order to trigger a penalty – Flamini had just entered the pitch and was out of rhythm – that he scored himself.
Hail to Arsenal, since they were able to compete against a team that sometimes seemed unbeatable and that needed two amazing blocks from ter Stegen, the kind of saves which can make you advance to the next round. The Gunners have managed to get closer to the European elite, but they’re still missing the definitive step: being a candidate to win the Champions League and showing the solvency to strive for the Premier League title.
Leo Messi and the trident are always in the spotlight, but yesterday the culé team rose once again to the occasion in a high-profile setting. With a 66% share in possession, 89% in pass accuracy of 723 total passes, 15 shots and an unthinkable calmness when the Londoners drew their weapons at the Emirates. Luis Enrique’s players knew about the physical exhaustion and the slower rhythm Arsenal would have later in the game so they made their possessions longer, but they attacked the space looking for the goal at every chance they had. Mascherano and the cover he provides, Rakitic and his movements without the ball, Iniesta’s and Sergio Busquets’ pausa. The latter asked for the substitution early in the game, but he decided to wait for the halftime. At the end, he played the 90 minutes and gave a tactical and technical exhibition, enabling clear build-up plays, providing continuity and perfectly sensing when to press and when to maintain his position to stop the transitions. On the land of kings and queens, Busquets proved once more that no one can challenge him in his environment.
Messi and Barcelona have the merit of making a habit out of the extraordinary and outstanding. Whether attacking positionally or in transition, it’s the same for him and for his teammates. They know how to wait for their chance, which usually coincides with the Argentinian’s instinct: when he thinks ‘let’s go’, the match is over. Two goals and the upper hand in a new European tie. And despite the 0-2, still pressuring in the 90th minute. The secret is that besides they’re very good, they still desire to be so.
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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.
WRITTEN BY: Ismael Ledesma
Ismael Ledesma coordinates and writes at Martiperarnau.com. He also collaborates with the press department of UD Levante @LevanteUDDM and LevanteUDRadio.
TRANSLATED BY: Jaime Ibarra
Jaime is a chemical engineer from Venezuela who is passionate about football and Barça. He loves the club’s history and he has been an unconditional fan since Ronaldo “The Phenomenon” amazed the world with the Blaugrana colors.