By Manuel Traquete
Barcelona beat Arsenal to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals; they had 76 percent of the possession and held the Gunners to zero shots in 90 minutes.
Despite being one of the top English teams, Arsenal were made to look like a third-division Spanish side at Camp Nou.
It was all great for Barcelona then, right?
Wrong. A 4-3 win on aggregate is far from a great result, especially given the way Barcelona dominated the tie. Barcelona did advance, which is what matters the most, but such profligacy could have been very, very costly, and it will certainly be, unless it’s corrected immediately.
Had a football player been in Nicklas Bendtner’s position at the 87th minute, Barcelona could have been sent packing. It would have been terribly unfair, but Barcelona would only have their own wastefulness in front of goal to blame.
The second leg performance was true master-class from Barcelona. Arsenal might be the best possession team in the EPL, but they just can’t hold a candle to Barcelona in that department.
Despite the 1-2 disadvantage, Barcelona always looked calm and never really looked under pressure; this is partly because, due to the highly competitive nature of La Liga, Barcelona are used to having to win every match.
While in other leagues, top sides can afford to slip up, Barcelona must play every match as if it were a final, since Real Madrid are always breathing down their neck.
Having to win at all costs is a familiar task for Barcelona and that was evident yesterday. Playing under pressure is what Barcelona does every week!
In the first half, Barcelona just passed the ball around, always looking for openings. Arsenal defended well, with every man behind the ball, but it looked inevitable that Barcelona would score sooner or later since the entire game was played in Arsenal’s half.
The goal came in added time with a classic Barcelona move: Cesc Fabregas with a little flick to Andres Iniesta, who assisted Messi for a truly wonderful finish from the best in the world. Three Barcelona youth products combined to finally break Arsenal’s resistance.
With Barcelona ahead on aggregate, one would expect Arsenal to be more attacking in the second half. But the game remained exactly the same.
However, in the 55th minute, Arsenal scored one of the flukiest goals imaginable; in the only corner they had in the second half, Sergio Busquets headed the ball into his own net, despite being completely alone. This must be the first time a team gets a goal without shooting for 90 minutes!
Despite this setback, Barcelona remained calm and composed, convinced that the second goal would come. Robin Van Persie’s red card (which was perhaps too harsh) esentially put a definite end to Arsenal’s resistance. Their defense became very sloppy and Barcelona kept on creating chances at will.
A brilliant link-up play saw Xavi Hernandez score the second; and a few minutes later Messi sealed the tie from the penalty spot. Barcelona had several chances to score more goals, but it wasn’t meant to be.
While Manuel Almunia must take some of the credit, Barcelona should really have tallied more goals from their absolutely dominant performance.
Barcelona was guilty of the same sin, to a lesser extent, in the first leg.
They might have got away this time, but it’d quite idiotic to think they can go all the way in this competition if they don’t start taking their chances more often. Given the massive gulf in class between the two sides, it’s a worrying sign that Barcelona were in the brink of elimination against Arsenal.
Many pundits believe this Barcelona team is good enough to challenge for another treble, and it’s hard to argue with them looking at the way Barca play. When you have players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, among others, you’re bound to achieve great things.
However, in order to do so, Barcelona will have to learn their lesson from the Arsenal tie and become as ruthless in front of goal as they were in the glorious 2008/2009 season.
For those who have been watching Pep’s team over the past few years, there’s every reason to believe that they will indeed step up. It remains to be seen in the quarter-finals.