Més que un Match

The one thing that was concrete amidst all the hype surrounding this fixture was this; the biggest scalp available in modern football was up for grabs. Could Arsenal win the struggle and impose their footballing artistry over that of Barcelonas?

An essential fact here was that Guardiola, shining managerial talent that he is, is still a rookie compared to the veteran that is Wenger. If the teams switched managers, how would Arsenals chances be viewed? I believe Barcelona would come out of that as supreme favourites.

Wenger has finally seemed to instil that gritty aspect into his squad. Jack Wilshere, the latest English Great Hope, came out speaking about being nasty before the game. Ominous news for Alex Fergsuon is that this Arsenal side might have finally developed that coveted ability to utilise mental strength in tandem with their natural instincts that is intrinsic to all truly indominatable athletes.

Most importantly for the standard bearers of the beautiful game in Britain was to ensure they stepped up and went toe to toe with their Catalan counterparts. If they did this, the match would take on a form in stark contrast to last years meeting where Barca controlled proceedings almost unchallenged.

Encouragingly from the start they used their hunger for respect across Europe to ignore their own for Guardiolas side. Possession was won back within sixteen seconds of kick off. Barcelonas main ability is retaining possession, second to this is pressure. As obvious as it may be, they operate with an attacking philosophy. Their tiki-taka method ensures close proximity traingles of passing which ultimately knit together to ensure gaps in the oposition for a killer ball, the likes of which their attacking players are adept at making with their eyes closed.

Tiki-Taka has many advantages. It is sublime to watch, it brings all players into play, it is great for developing technically proficient players, infact if I were to list the advantages I could write for hours. An aspect of it, if exploited in the right manner, that can be named a disadvantage is exactly the positioning of the players as they partake in their sumptuous passing triangles. Barca are far from a long ball team. The players are close to eachother, always making the angle for the next one touch pass. This leads to players bunching in places, which in turn leaves gaps elsewhere.

This tendency to open up just as many gaps in their own team as their opposition is usually left unexploited in La Liga. The pace of Walcott was seen as an almost specialised weapon with which to get through the gaps left in their high line. Add to those positional gaps the gaping one left by Puyols tendonitis and even more expectation fell onto Walcotts pace. Unsuprisingly Guardiola had identified this and Arsenal made no headway until Walcotts substitution for Nasri in the second half.

First Van Persie combined his recent scintilating form with Valdes obvious positional deficiencies. A tremendous volley from an acutely tight angle. Then Nasri was handed exactly the type of opportunity Walcott had been waiting for all night. He tore down the flank and waited until Arshavin was in sight. The magical Russian swept the ball into the net, aided by Valdes standing directly behind a defender therefore cutting off his line of vision. The Emirates erupted as a stadium of its majesty deserved.

Arsenal have their hands on the scalp, but the dirty work of removing it will take place in Camp Nou. If the nasty streak is indeed present then they won’t hesitate to tear it aloft and proclaim themselves as a force to be feared in European football.

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