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Champions League Round of 16 - Arsenal vs Barcelona - Review

Saturday, February 19, 2011

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Arsenal, with help from Robin Van Persie & substitute Andrey Arshavin produced a brilliant late fight back beating Barcelona 2-1 on the night.

David villa fired Barca into the lead after nice combination play with Lionel Messi. This was far from the start Wenger wanted after he declared on Tuesday that the Gunners were determined to prove they were a different team to the one humbled 6-3 on aggregate last season. Just 24 hours after north London rivals Tottenham shocked Serie A leaders AC Milan, the Gunners stunned the Spanish champions.

The class however was still there to be witnessed by an aggravated home suppor, as Barca controlled the tempo and dictated the play, on a evening where Messi guilty of missing a glorious chance.

They made it look so easy for much of this last-16 first-leg clash as they slid the ball around Arsenal's defence and sent players darting into the box with fabulous runs pushing the boundaries of offside. For spells it was last season's quarter-final at Emirates Stadium all over again, with Barcelona playing some breathtaking football orchestrated by Barcelona's vast array of stellar names with Messi, Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez all on display showing how "the real game" should be played.

The tide surprisingly turned after the interval when Arsenal attacked with greater conviction and dropped their previous high line slightly deeper. 

Arsenal looked far from intimidated by their opponents' reputation during the opening 15 minutes as they looked to punish Barca before they settled. The early onslaught was helped with the pace of Walcott and his pace exploiting Maxwell. Walcott was running from deep catching Barca cold creating an early chance he threaded his way across the penalty area, evading several defenders, before finding an unmarked Cesc Fabregas. The skipper expertly lifted the ball to Van Persie who forced a smart save on the half-volley.

Sensing the early threat from Barca they weathered the storm with neat and intricate passing in a bid to gain the momentum allowing them to pick up the gears. Arsenal's defence was outmanoeuvred when Iniesta sent Messi through on goal. Messi timing his run to perfection leaving Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou stranded, with only Champions League debutant Wojciech Szczesny to beat he steered cheeky chip wide of the right post. It was a massive let-off for the Gunners, who found themselves being pushed back with increasing regularity, as Messi directed a shot from a good chance straight at Szczesny. The game pattern was turning; Barca happy to play the simple pass and move and Arsenal could only watch. 

With few chances during this Barca onslaught Walcott sliced through Barcelona's midfield, picking out Fabregas; with Valdes stranded in no-man’s land the cross only needed a Van Persie touch, which never eventuated

Respite was offered by a dynamic run from Jack Wilshere, but the move ended when Van Persie took one touch too many before unleashing his wild shot miles wide. Messi scrambled the ball into the net as half-time approached but the flag had been raised for offside.

Arsenal made a bright start and uplifting to the second half with Wilshere just failing to get enough power on his shot to trouble Valdes.
There was greater energy about Arsenal as they staged a series of attacks, although their cause was not helped when Fabregas sent a free-kick into the arms of Valdes.
The returning Samir Nasri threatened at the near post but Gerard Pique arrived to bundle his cross into touch before Van Persie could connect and moments later the Dutchman was kept out by Valdes.
Arsenal suffered a scare in the 68th minute when Eboue let Messi creep free, but the Argentinian hit the side netting instead of squaring to a line of team-mates queuing up to pounce. Arsenal continued to press as the game became increasingly open and in the 79th minute their endeavour was rewarded. Gael Clichy did the initial damage with a superbly-lofted ball down the left channel that was gathered by Van Persie.
The Holland marksman was at a tight angle but his powerful shot slipped inside Valdes at the near post. It was a poor piece of goalkeeping from Valdes but he could do nothing about the winner that arrived with six minutes to go.
Revelling in the space now available to them, Arsenal burst free down the right through Nasri. Arshavin, who had replaced Walcott, arrived on the edge of the penalty area to pick up the Frenchman's pass before burying the ball into the back of the net for the goal which gives Arsenal the edge ahead of their challenging trip to the Nou Camp.

Truly a spectacular finish to a remarkable game.

Final Score:  Arsenal 2 – Barcelona 1
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