A triumphant effort from the Londoners but still convincingly falling short of the prize. Arsenal lose 3-1 on the night in Barcelona, making it 5-1 to the Blaugrana on aggregate. There’s no shame in being defeated by the perhaps one of the greatest teams this game has ever seen, but despite the courageous effort from the Gunners, they have proved how the gap in talent has increased over the years when comparing England and Spain.
It was a strange team sheet Wenger initially picked for the match, with several rotations from their ‘strongest XI’. 19 year old Alex Iwobi made his first start in the Champions League, a quite memorable one at the Camp Nou. Mathieu Flamini was clearly selected to start the game due to his outstanding game changing approach in the first leg. Wenger has obviously decided that impossible wasn’t hard enough, so he opted to make it harder for himself. However, despite the loss, it was nothing less of a creditable display from the Gunners, and perhaps better than we expected. Attacking wise we looked fearsome again, but it just wasn’t to be.
Creative interchanges were witnessed all over the pitch in the opening minutes, with Özil and Welbeck combining as well as Messi and the whole Barcelona team. The first real chance for the Gunners came after 10 minutes, when Sergio Busquests was caught in possession by ex Madrista Mesut Özil, who led a break for Wenger’s men. He had options left and right but in the end had his shot from 20 yards just put wide. A bit of belief for Arsenal fans. David Ospina made a great save to deny Lionel Messi at the other end shortly after, as Neymar fed the messiah with a glorious chance. 18 minutes, 1-0 Barcelona, as the evergreen MSN trio combine to lift the Los Cules support. 3 passes and proof of how easy it is and can be for Barca, as Suarez plays a nicely weighted pass to Neymar drifting into the space behind Bellerin, before neatly placing it past Ospina. Arsenal responded, but their ability was not sufficient enough to outclass the strong back line. It was a beautiful performance from Barcelona, a true footballing masterclass that not one would not enjoy. The half came to a close, with both teams having good chances, maybe Arsenal’s just being a bit better…
Iwobi and Welbeck were looking like a revelation for the Gunners, linking up beautifully, and maybe the 19 year old was even catching the eye of a certain few Spaniards. Arsenal were looking good attacking wise, and eventually caught their break. Alexis Sanchez pulls the ball to the edge for the awaiting Mohamed Elneny who side footed it into the top right hand corner for his very first goal in an Arsenal shirt. One for the highlight reel. Arsenal were becoming more and more dangerous, refilling hope in London, until Wenger’s man struck. The man that was so highly rated by the Frenchman, provides definition for his price tag. Dani Alves chips the ball into the area, with Suarez acrobatically volleying into the very top corner. Inch perfect and sheer class. No chance for Arsenal now. The Gunners looked to respond, and Welbeck hits the post minutes after the goal. Goals for two thirds of the MSN trip now, with only Messi to blank. However, that changed moments before the 90th minute, with a outstanding lob over Ospina into the far corner giving fans memories of ‘that’ goal in the Semis last year.
Arsenal fall at the Last 16 hurdle yet again, but I think this year they can be let off.
“It was a team performance and the quality was good. I’m disappointed with the result but we played against a team with the best strikers I have seen play together. It is exceptional, they can make chances from nothing. We could not take our chances to [find] a second goal that would put us in a strong position tonight but after they scored and it was 2-1, our belief was less than when it was 1-1. We had chances and Barcelona are an exceptional side.”
We could have taken the dangerous situations we created. Barcelona, going forward in the final third with the quality of passing and creativity, Messi was absolutely exceptional. He went for 90 minutes and came out of the game without missing a first touch, no matter where the ball came from. Barcelona have two or three players who can transform normal life into art.”