Arsenal-Barca, Bordering on Classic Status

A treat today on Fox, open, attacking football from two of the best in the game.

Cesc knocks home the equalizer...

Arsenal vs. Barcelona did not disappoint in what is shaping up to be a doozy of a Champion’s League tournament. (Inter were 1-0 to the good against CSKA)

Quick question, how are everyone’s Champ’s League brackets doing?

Hopefully you’ve already caught some of the highlights. Arsenal, Barcelona at the Emirates today? A classic.

In case you missed it, Barca put on a clinic in the first half sending double digit shots in the direction of Manuel Almunia, but finding no joy.
For Arsenal, William Gallas and Andre Arshavin both were subbed out with injuries in the 1st half, while Cesc Fabregas picked up a yellow to rule him out of the return leg.

Zlatan's first was pure class...

The 2nd half would tell a different, but no less exciting tale.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic notched two seemingly insurmountable goals for Barca.

His first right after the half whistle on a long lead pass and subsequent chip shot. His second a miscommunication in the back between Alex Song, now standing in for William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen who went up field to create the space to mark Lionel Messi.

It was a tactical move to introduce Theo Walcott that abruptly changed the tide for Arsenal. As Barca failed to adjust, Walcott bombed down the left flank, creating three scoring chances in a manner of minutes. The third hit pay dirt as as Walcott banged the ball lower left from deep inside the box to ignite the Arsenal crowd and energize his teammates.

In the 80th decade, Cesc Fabregas made ran on to a ball and appeared to go down easily on a touch from the late-recovering Carlos Puyol. Replays showed the Puyol did, in fact, impede the shooting leg of the Fabregas.

Some other bullets:

• Look no further than today’s game to see why Bob Bradley keeps forcing the issue with Jonathan Bornstein and Heath Pearce on the left. Theo Walcott flat-out skinned the left flank of Barca today. As the half wore on, Arsenal consistently switched the ball to the right or switched to the left and back to the right to create space for Walcott who flew–that is the most accurate verb–by defenders consistently.

• Score it +1, -1 for Barca manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola made nothing less than a brilliant call in challenging the reshaped Arsenal central defense on the 2nd half whistle with a long ball over the top to a streaking Ibrahimovic. Despite contentions that Almunia misplayed–I saw some comments–Alex Song, playing out of position, failed to realize the threat and Manuel Almunia was left by his lonesome in a lose-lose decision.

Almunia choose to come out and force the 6’5” foward to play over the top of him, the Swede did you perfectly with a chip shot that rolled over the left half of the goal line. (After review, Almunia got caught in no man’s land. If he stays in the goal, he likely thwarts any shot with Song catching up to Ibra; if he comes out he needs to commit and he likely forces at worse a back pass. Poor play upon review.)

– 1 goes to Guardiola for not making a substitution early enough to change the game complexion or just slow a barreling Arsenal down after the Emirates made it 2-1. Arsenal got comfortable with their ball movement and who to attack. The lack of substitution essentially put or left Barca on the defensive.

22 responses to this post.

  1. These are the game days that I wish I was unemployed.


  2. Posted by KL on 2010/03/31 at 3:46 PM

    Well I must admit that I was ignorant to the pure amazingness that is Theo Walcott! Forget Wayne Rooney, this guy is the X factor that could embarrass 4-0. Seriously think about it. If Boca is there, then presumably Jay Demerit will have to slide in to double up on the left. Can we really expect Gooch to be able to move fast enough on the ground to stay with Rooney (we all know Gooch is great but he’s the air man, not the land man). In my humble opinion, no.

    I know he’s inconsistent but I am starting to think Pierce is the best option, and sadly Captain America may have to sit on the bench. Am I freaking out for no reason guys? Please tell me I am and put me straight.

    P.S. Final note, I was exaggerating on forgetting Rooney. Just trying to get my point across sarcastically.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/31 at 3:48 PM

      Walcott had a good game, but he also has games where he loses the ball more than Steven Pienaar.

      At this point though, Capello will use Walcott like Wenger used him today as a super sub…He’ll likely go with Wayne Rooney up top with Heskey and then Aaron Lennon attacking from the wing and Gerrard floating around the middle.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/31 at 3:53 PM

      Not wanting to hijack this great column into the “Theo Walcott Appreciation Society”, but if he can do that against Barcelona in 25 minutes then…. You should YouTube him, especially the Croatia game in Zagreb… I have been grinning like a Cheshire cat!


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/31 at 4:00 PM

        George — I’m acknowledging Walcott’s ability to be a force — primarily because of his speed.

        But he’s wildly..maddeningly(?)…inconsistent.

        If he starts having games like that consistently, then great…and he may…he’ll be like the Allen Iverson of the EPL.

        Too often he loses the ball, is out of control, or overthinks it.

        Think of today as well…he had nothing to lose! Barca were up 2-0 with the turnaround leg at Camp Nou and an already-ruled-out Fabregas.

        What happens when he needs to play defense?


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/31 at 4:01 PM

        I am willing to bet Walcott doesn’t start against the States…wait! I’ll throw that in next weeks odd piece.

        3-2 Walcott doesn’t start.

        On Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 4:00 PM, Matt Tomaszewicz wrote:

        > George — I’m acknowledging Walcott’s ability to be a force — primarily > because of his speed. > > But he’s wildly..maddeningly(?)…inconsistent. > > If he starts having games like that consistently, then great…and he > may…he’ll be like the Allen Iverson of the EPL. > > Too often he loses the ball, is out of control, or overthinks it. > > Think of today as well…he had nothing to lose! Barca were up 2-0 with the > turnaround leg at Camp Nou and an already-ruled-out Fabregas. > > What happens when he needs to play defense? > >


        • Posted by KL on 2010/03/31 at 4:32 PM

          Thanks Matt, for calming me down. And dammit George, stop it. I’m going to have a heart attack if you keep talking like that. Just kidding, just a little playful banter. I have to agree about Henry. He looked flat. Plain and simple. Red Bulls here he comes.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/05 at 2:58 PM

        I am getting fired up:


  3. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/31 at 3:47 PM

    Re. your first bullet Matthew – I have been singing this for ages. A fully fit Walcott is going to be a right handful. He’s had an injury-ravaged season and it is only now that he is free of any little niggles. He just needs to get more minutes under his belt. He’s going to be flying come the World Cup. It’s going to be a long 90 minutes for poor old Bocanagra!


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/31 at 3:52 PM

      A few things to remember here George:

      . Walcott has a game like this one every three. . Walcott entered after what 60 minutes against a Barca team that thought they had it won. You could see how loose they were playing after the 2nd goal. . Whoever the LB is for the Yanks, he’ll still have either Rico or Edu to double down and Landon Donovan controlling traffic on that side. . Keita was more than lackadaisical on that side.

      So yes Walcott is a “factor” but he still does not do it consistently.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/31 at 3:59 PM

        Re. consistency, see my comment about injury ravaged season. And that’s fine having Clarke or Edu to double up, they won’t be able to catch him – he’ll be “beep beeping” them as he whizzes past! Seriously, I would expect a tag team on him but that will leave space elsewhere for Lampard to come from deep… and when we go one up, there will be holes for us the exploit.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/03/31 at 4:03 PM

          Back to the game for a second.

          What an amazing one. Barca lost their swagger when Arsenal started pressing at home and like I said about their manager way late in bringing in reinforcements.

          Puyol and Pique both now out for next game…and that might be to the better. Neither was on tap of their game today.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/03/31 at 4:08 PM

          That was an amazing example of how to press your opponents high up the pitch. I cannot remember Arsenal turning over possession (repeatedly, I might add) so cheaply.

          I said before that this tie should be over, but somehow Arsenal managed to get something from the game. Amazing.


  4. Posted by Michael on 2010/03/31 at 4:02 PM

    IMHO, another -1 for Pep: taking out Ibrahimovic in favor of Henry. The guy looked old and Barca had no attack with him up top. There were a bunch of factors that changed the momentum as you describe (Walcott) but Henry did nothing except cough up the ball and one time fall over to win a cheap free kick.


    • couple personal notes on this game:

      barca outclassed arsenal, very lucky and undeserved draw for arsenal. arsenal did awaken in the last couple minutes though. a fair score would have been 3-1 or 2-1.

      ibra woke up from his 3 month nap, huge pressure and him and he converted, nice to see.

      was henry trying when he got in? I really dont think he cared if he lost.

      puyol and pique are out for the return leg in barcelona, but i honestly don’t think it will be too difficult for barca with fabregas and arshavin gone. arsenal needs to win or get at least two goals, thats going to be touuughhh at the camp nou.

      (my fav club team is barca, can you tell?)


  5. I avoided sites all day and just watched this match…just wow. That was a beautiful match to watch on so many levels, great play overall.


  6. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/06 at 12:36 PM

    Tell you what, Barca know how to con the ref. They roll around in agony as soon as they get touched and then as soon as the ref blows for the ‘foul’, they’re up running about no problem…

    But take nothing away from Messi. He really is amazing, and he is the only difference between the two teams today. Arsenal are getting picked apart as they have to go forward in search of goals. And the last person you want running at your last player is Messi. He’s got a first half hat-trick, and the funny thing is he has missed a couple chances too.

    I am just glad that Argentina do not have Xavi or Iniesta in there team…


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/06 at 12:39 PM

      Hey guys — I’ll move this post up in a minute…I had a post for today, just couldn’t get to it.


    • George I think the entire world is glad Argentina haven’t figured out how to get Barca Messi to show up for the national team, and you’re spot on that they don’t have the midfield players (that i’ve seen) to make that incisive pass that springs Messi on goal.

      The third goal was absolutely humbling.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/06 at 8:22 PM

        I really wanted Arsenal to win, but I have to say, Messi was unplayable today.

        A harsh critic will point out that Arsenal afforded Messi too much space, but to be honest, Arsenal don’t possess a player who can mark him out of the game.

        I just wish Diaby played Walcott in when it was 1-0 – he was hovering, staying on-side and he would have been in on goal, but Diaby made the wrong decision.

        It will be interesting to see how Barcelona / Messi cope with Mourinho’s / Inter’s cautious approach. I can see Messi having a man marker, and it being a very tactical game and not necessarily ‘easy on the eye’.

        I am still pissed off about their players writhing around in agony anf then sprinting around 30 seconds later. But I guess it’s the cheating Latin way.


    • Posted by Imron on 2010/04/26 at 8:32 PM

      agree with this one….


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