First of all, apologies for the lack of match reports recently, I’m sure you won’t mind that this is a little late – it’s always fun to bask in the glory of a game like this, however long ago it was. Let me just refresh your memories.
The media had written us off. The fans had written us off. Managers of other teams had written us off.
Nobody really gave us a chance going into the game against one of the best teams ever, I think it’s fair to say.
However, in the Arsenal camp, among players and fans alike, there was a mood of optimism. Obviously people were nervous too – this was Barçelona we were talking about. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Andres Iniesta.. the list goes on. Nevertheless, people were still in high spirits about the game as we approached the 16th of February. The feeling was that if we put in a performance like against Chelsea, when we beat them 3-1, we were in with a chance.
The team was the same as against Chelsea, other than the goalkeeping position – Wojiech Szczesny played and not Lukasz Fabianski. Oh, and cult hero Emmanuel Eboue stood in for the suspended Bacary Sagna. Luckily we had first choice left back Gael Clichy, who seems to be recovering from a loss of form, to counter the threat of Dani Alves, with Samir Nasri on the left flank to double up against the flying wing back. Although of course there was still the small matter of the world’s best player, Lionel Messi – he has been playing centrally this season, in a “false 9” position like our Robin van Persie, yet still drifted out wide occasionally. Barça’s front line was completed by the mercurial David Villa and rising star Pedro.
Nasri had been categorically ruled out of the game previously, but recovered miraculously from his hamstring injury to face the Catalan giants. This meant Andrey Arshavin had to settle for a place on the bench.
Like in the semi final against Manchester United a couple of years ago, flags were given out pre-kick off, and when the teams came out of the tunnel, the noise was enough to give you goosebumps. We needed an electric atmosphere, and it looked like we had one.
Walcott was our main outlet early on. After four minutes he went past three players, gave the ball to Cesc Fabregas, who chipped a ball into van Persie. However, the red-hot striker slammed his shot at Valdes, who saved. It was a great chance.
Barçelona had been quiet, when suddenly the diminutive Messi sprung the offside trap and sped through on goal. Szczesny stood his ground, and made himself big. Messi waited and waited for Szczesny, then dinked the ball over the goalkeeper. It looked destined for the corner, but it just drifted wide. Huge sighs of relief could be heard, but were covered up by nervous ironic cheers.
Barça continued to press, and Messi went close again. But then, break through for the men in… turquoise. David Villa was slipped through, and looked offside, but tucked away between Szczesny’s legs. It was a great finish, and it turned out Clichy played him just onside.
Arsenal 0-1 Barçelona
David Villa ’26
Arsenal responded well to the devastating blow we had just recieved. Midfielder Jack Wilshere charged through Barcelona’s midfield, finding the in-form Robin van Persie on the edge of the box, only for his effort to blaze right of Victor Valdes’ goal.
Barçelona then again found the back of Arsenal’s net.
Lionel Messi, who has yet to score away to English opposition, threaded through Pedro, whose shot was saved by Szczesny but the ball found the head of Messi and flew into the Arsenal goal.
Arsenal looked down and out. Until referee Nicola Rizzoli blew his whistle for offside that is.
After the break, Arsenal looked determined to get a result.
We had a chance when Fabregas patiently found Robin van Persie, but the striker’s long-range curler was comfortably caught by Valdes.
Messi found the side netting of Szczesny’s goal, but the second half was all about Arsenal, though we were still one-nil down.
Until the audacity of one of our star players paid off.
A hard-worked one-two between Clichy and Arshavin, (the latter entering the pitch as Alex Song’s replacement), led to Gael dinking the ball to the onrushing Robin van Persie, the Dutchman struck the ball sweetly on the half-volley from an outrageous angle, and Arsenal had their equaliser. Amazing.
Arsenal 1-1 Barçelona
Robin van Persie ’78
What a bloody goal! Arsenal had shown fantastic resilience to level the score, but, as Arsenal learnt last season, taking a draw to the Nou Camp would make things very difficult.
4 minutes later however, Arsenal had struck again.
Fantastic vision by Fabregas led to Samir Nasri racing down the right wing, his footwork allowed him to hold the ball up for support, before passing across the penalty area for Andrey Arshavin to beautifully curl it past the Barcelona defence.
Arsenal 2-1 Barçelona
Andrey Arshavin ’83
Stunned. Both Barçelona and Arsenal alike.
Sighs of relief after the 4 minutes of added time had ended. A famous victory for the gunners, against the best team in the world.
See you at the Nou Camp, Barça.
Written by Rockin’ Robin Massa of GoonersWorld forums: http://goonersworld.co.uk/forum/