Guest Article BY: EastCoastBias
Yesterday, at the Emirates Stadium in North London, Arsenal pulled off an unimaginable comeback against arguably the best club team in the world, Barcelona. Yesterday’s match was the first of two legs that these two teams will play in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
To provide some context, Barcelona and Arsenal faced off last year during the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League. Barcelona emerged victorious over the course of two legs, by beating Arsenal 6-3 on aggregate. Lionel Messi scored four goals in the second leg to cement Barcelona’s place in the semifinal.
Thus coming into this year’s matchup, very few fans and pundits were giving Arsenal any chance, after they were so soundly beaten last year. Moreover, Barcelona is playing at an unprecedented level in La Liga, having beaten their archrival Real Madrid 5-0 in November.
Barcelona took it to Arsenal early in yesterday’s match, showing off what makes them the most complete club team in the world: great ball movement and stout defense. This paid dividends for Barcelona, as David Villa scored halfway through the first half, giving Barcelona not only an early lead but also an all important away goal.
Coming into the second half, Arsenal looked to have regrouped, and they picked up the tempo of their movement. Yet it still seemed that they were going to be unable to break down the Barcelona barrier. However, a piece of magic by Robin Van Persie tied the game with less than 15 minutes left to go in the game. His goal came from such an acute angle that many folks are still wondering whether or not it was a cross or an actual shot on goal.
Nevertheless, the end result is all that mattered, and after Van Persie’s goal, Barcelona were visibly shaken, which was unusual for a team comprised of both Champions League and World Cup winners. Taking note of this, Arsenal continued to press and were rewarded with less than five minutes to go when, on the counterattack, Samir Nasri found Andrei Arshavin, who applied a class finish to give Arsenal the lead.
The game ended 2-1 in Arsenal’s favor, and the Emirates Stadium was jubilant, as the Arsenal faithful have legitimate reason to believe that the Gunners can hold off Barcelona in a few weeks time and advance to the quarterfinals.
I, personally, see Arsenal’s dream run coming to an end at the Nou Camp. In order to advance, Arsenal has to either prevent Barcelona from scoring a single goal, or they have to hold Barcelona to a draw. That is easier said than done, especially when the game is being played on Barcelona’s turf.
Barcelona is a completely different animal at home. Their ball movement is faster, making it harder for opponents to even win the ball off of them, and they press higher up the pitch. Their defense tends to be leaner, as well, making it harder for opposing teams to break them down. Just ask Real Madrid, who was coming into the first leg of El Clasico full of confidence, and like I said before, they were pummeled 5-0.
If Arsenal had won yesterday’s game 3-1, then I think they would have been in a solid position to advance. However, at home, Barcelona are virtually guaranteed to score at least one goal, and I expect this goal to come early in the game, as well. I don’t see Arsenal recovering from this early goal, particularly because they are still a young team with a lot of players who still haven’t overcome adversity.
I expect this early goal to shellshock Arsenal, and they will give up a quick second goal. At this point, Arsenal will need to score one goal in order to take the fixture into extra time. However, I don’t unfortunately do not see that happening. Even though Gerard Pique will be missing the second leg, Barcelona will get its captain and defensive lynchpin Carles Puyol back, making Arsenal’s task of scoring one goal that much harder.
Additionally, when having the lead at home, Barcelona takes their game of possession football up an extra notch. This makes not only makes it difficult for opponents to win back the ball, but it also wears them down, making it hard for them to do anything productive when they do have the ball.
Thus, I expect 2 early goals from David Villa and Lionel Messi to cement Barca’s place in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal fans, do not be disappointed. Your team had the bad luck of being drawn against the Barcelona machine at an especially bad time. Better luck next year!