Saturday, April 03, 2010

4 Goals 3 Injuries 2 Reunions

Arsenal 2 - 2 Barcelona

Barcelona did not waste any time in establishing their superiority and from the first minute they played Arsenal off the field. It should have been 3-0 early on but Almunia, Arsenal's much despised goalie, bravely kept Arsenal in the game. It wasn't until the 22nd minute that Arsenal had their first meaningful shot on Barca's net, when a wicked curving effort by Nasri just went wide of the net. Before half-time, Arsenal lost Arshavin and Gallas through injury and then Cesc got a yellow card thereby suspending him from the return leg at the Nou Camp. He was visibly heartbroken as he was looking forward for the chance to play in his front of his friends and family.  All said and done, Arsenal were lucky to go into the break at 0-0 and not 0-5 down.

22 seconds into the second half, a long ball found Arsenal's defense sleeping and Zlatan coolly lobbed Almunia who was needlessly out of his goal. All of Almunia's good work in the first half was undone by yet another misjudged moment of error, something that he has shown consistently over his Arsenal career. The long ball tactic worked so well that Barca tried it again 13 minutes later with the same end result of Zlatan scoring a goal. With Arsenal 0-2 at home, the tie looked over. However, the introduction of Theo Walcott changed things. His pace and wonderful goal just before the 70th minute mark sparked an Arsenal revival as the last 20 minutes were dominated by the home team.

There was a brief respite around the 77th minute mark when Zlatan went off and ex-Arsenal legend Thierry Henry stepped onto the pitch. Henry's appearance did not change Arsenal's momentum and 5 minutes from time, Arsenal amazingly tied the game up. After Cesc was judged to be blocked by Puyol, the Barca defender got a straight red card and Arsenal a penalty. Cesc smashed the kick home but appeared to hobble after the goal. With Arsenal having used all their three substitutes it seemed the game would be 10 vs 10 players but Cesc returned to the field and continued to limp until the finale.

For an hour, Barca showed why they are the best football side on the planet as their passes and movement was beautiful.  Barcelona are clearly the favourites in the return leg however they will be without their key defenders Puyol and Gerard Piqué both of whom are suspended. Arsenal on the other hand will be without Cesc, Gallas and Arshavin, three injuries which will have a huge impact not only on their European future but also their dreams of landing the league title . Both Cesc and Gallas are out for the rest of the season and it remains to be seen whether Cesc's brave heroics of playing with a broken leg and scoring that crucial penalty amount to anything for Arsenal's 2010 season.

The second leg should be equally entertaining and if Arsenal have any chance of pulling off an unlikely triumph they will need Samir Nasri to be in top form as he is the one remaining fit player who has a chance to provide a moment of genius to lift Arsenal.  On the other hand, Barcelona will be hoping that Messi, the world's best player, might finally make his presence felt as his impact in the first leg was minimal.

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