A miracle. That’s exactly what Lyon needed to go through to the knockout stages of the Champions League after disappointing in the five first games and scoring only on two occasions. To qualify, Les Gones not only needed Ajax to lose, but also had seven goals to catch up on the Dutch side. As if that wasn’t hard enough, Lyon’s goalscoring form had been worryingly poor, especially away, and when Dinamo Zagreb managed to hold them at 1-1 at half time, Marseille looked to be the only French club going to the last 16. We thought we had seen it all when Didier Deschamps’ men came back from 2-0 to win at Dortmund yesterday. Clearly not. Seven goals in 30 minutes, including four from Bafétimbi Gomis, allowed Lyon to unbelievably secure second place in Group D.
By Ulysse Pasquier, writing from Montreal
Ignoring the result, the first leg between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates was everything we had hoped for. The amount of precision in both teams’ passing and control made the game a joy to watch for anyone passionate about football, Gooner or Culé. Although not lacking the excitement and controversy, Tuesday’s match was somewhat disappointing in terms of the quality of play with only one team coming out of the gates. Indeed, the first half couldn’t have been more one-sided with waves of Messi-led attacks leaving Arsenal gasping for air. Sadly, the turning point of the game wasn’t the Argentinian’s genius touch to set up the first goal, or any other piece of football magic but a jaw dropping decision form the referee instead. The second half looked promising with the Gunner’s unlikely equalizer bound to open up the game and yet we barely had time to say “game on” before Mr. Massimo Busacca made the conscious decision to end the contest by sending off Robin Van Persie.
Hmm…maybe not, but it certainly was a great night of football and an amazing accomplishment for Arsenal as they came from two goals behind to grab a 2-2 draw against Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Emirates Stadium. It was one of the most dramatic matches I had seen in a long time and I am glad I chose to forget that I had to write a 12 page paper for the following day.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Barcelona in front just 20 seconds after the beginning of the second half and added another one to his name on the 59th minute. Barça deserved their lead after their first half display, which was one of the most stressful 45 minutes a Gunners fan will ever have to endure. Arsenal was completely outplayed having to concede 70% of the ball possession and 13 shots against just that one Nasri curler. Rarely had I seen Wenger’s side dominated in such a way and I felt we were very lucky to be level at half-time. We were not getting caught on counter-attacks like we did at Chelsea and Manchester United, Barcelona was playing our own style against us, beautiful possession football that is.
If not for Manuel Almunia’s sudden burst of genius and world class triple saves - where did that come from?!- we could have come back from the locker room 2 or 3 nil down. To concede two quick goals after that was therefore a huge blow and I felt we were heading for a 4-0 or 5-0 battering, which could have been the case if we had not shown such great resolve and mental strength. I have to confess I am ashamed to have written Arsenal off and I am glad the lads proved me wrong.
The Gunners were absolutely outstanding in the last 20 minutes and piled on the pressure on Victor Valdes’ goal. The introduction of Theo Walcott, under England’s manager Fabio Capello’s watchful eyes, truly changed the rhythm of the game and Arsenal will feel satisfied with the result having proved we certainly are not pushovers and have our place among the best out there.
Barcelona will feel they have the upper hand going in the second leg with two away goals and Fabregas suspended. I still believe that we have a great chance to create an upset, especially with Piqué and Puyol also out of contention. All we can do now is hope for another great match and a win against Wolves this weekend.
On another note, I am glad the Arsenal fans gave Thierry Henry a great reception…and I’m even happier he didn’t score.
UPDATE: Fabregas has been ruled out for the rest of the season for the injury he sustained at the end of the Barça game. This news made me think just one thing (and this goes back to my previous entry): I hope it wasn’t Cesc’s last match for Arsenal.
Arsenal was drawn on Friday against the title holders, Barcelona, in the Champions League quarterfinals. Incredibly, it did not feel like a surprise to be picked against the Spanish giants and it almost seemed destined to happen. The fixture is a repeat of the 2006 final which saw the Gunners fall apart 10 minutes from the victory to eventually lose 2-1. I am sure other Arsenal fans who remember the epic match will agree with me that the draw felt somewhat preordained. It was in fact the one matchup Dominic Vieira managed to anticipate correctly at afootballreport.
The draw is definitely not an easy one, arguably the most difficult for that matter, as Barcelona are considered by many to be massive favorites to win the competition. I still believe that Arsenal have the capacity to create an upset. Wenger’s team is in a great run of form, with 6 consecutive victories in the League and are going in this two-legged tie as underdogs, which is not such a bad thing. The match itself however is not just about getting into the semifinals of the most prestigious cup of club football. What will be at stake on April 6th at Camp Nou, makes this in my opinion Arsenal’s most important match of the year.
Arsenal’s loss in the final, back in 2006, was not only devastating for fans because they missed a chance on winning the Champion’s League for the first time in their history, but also because it was a major reason why the King…the legend…Thierry Henry, left the following season to the Catalan club. You could argue that if Arsenal had won, Henry would not have felt the need to go away, seeking to win the precious Champion’s League Cup, the only silverware that he didn’t have in his collection at the time.
The situation will be very similar in two weeks. 22 year-old Spaniard and Arsenal’s top scorer this season, Cesc Fabregas, may be what the two teams end up playing for that night. Fabregas arrived in London at 16 from Barcelona’s youth team, where he played alongside other kids - you might have heard of them - Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, now stars at Barça. The midfielder has now developed into a leading figure at Arsenal as he is the team’s captain and a Fab-ulous playmaker. The Gunners have relied on him quite heavily this season and there is definitely a lapse in performance when he is injured.
Discerning himself as one of the best players of the Premier League, there has been increased speculation from Barcelona, hinting that they will attempt to sign him in the next transfer window. Barcelona Presidents, who are elected, have used his name in the club’s politics many times, promising that they would bring him back as a bargain to gain votes. Fellow midfielder and Spain international teammate Xavi has also spoken out recently, declaring that he wanted to play alongside Fabregas at Barcelona, who, he said, had “Barça DNA”.
There is no doubt that Cesc will one day move back to Spain (he even said so himself!), however I believe that a loss to Barcelona this year, would make it happen sooner rather than later.
Another reason to fight and set the record straight Arsenal!
Arsenal trashed Porto 5-0 at the Emirates on Tuesday, 6-2 on aggregate, to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The Gunners came back from a 2-1 deficit and showed much more spirit than they did in Portugal, with the likes of Almunia and Song back in the side.
I am very skeptical about Manuel Almunia, but at least he didn’t pull any gaffes - I’m looking at you Fabianski. The highlight of the game however, was Nicklas Bendtner’s hattrick, which happened to be the first of his career. It was a great achievement for the Dane, especially after a horrid and somewhat unlucky performance against Burnley during the weekend.
Bendtner missed so many “easy” tap-ins from a few yards out that it became almost comical, even the striker could not help but grin despite his frustration. Critics raged from all sides, questioning his abilities and Arsène Wenger’s trust in him. It took Bendtner only 3 days to prove them wrong giving the best answer possible…3 goals.
The 22-year old displayed strong confidence by shrugging off what had been said about him, keeping a cool head in front of goal and even netting a 90th minute penalty to seal the victory.
His goals were not that spectacular, however the fact that he is now actually scoring them is very promising and I have to say, a relief. What many overlooked in his performance against Burnley is how Bendtner managed to constantly be at the right place at the right time and although he was not able to get the finishing touch, his positioning was still quite remarkable.
The one thing you want of your young players is for them to progress and learn from their mistakes. This was the second match in a row where an Arsenal youngster managed to do just that. Following England’s international friendly against Egypt, critics were saying that Theo Walcott was not improving. His response? Man of the match and a goal against Burnley, which shows the Gunners, one of the youngest sides in Europe, have a great future ahead of them.
I believe Bendtner is an easy target for criticism in the Arsenal squad as he seems almost clumsy next to technical players like Arshavin and Fabregas. I still think that he has the potential to become a great player and a leading goal-scorer for Arsenal. The Big Dane also offers much needed height in the box that Arshavin would not be able to match even with his arms up (5 ft 7 against Bendtner’s 6 ft 4).
As long as he doesn’t pull anything like THIS again…he’ll be just fine.