Talent and pride have guided FC Barcelona into the quarter finals of the Champions League in a gripping encounter with Arsenal. There was no arguing who dominated the possession. It was Barça, while the Premiership side had clearly only come to defend the 2-1 lead from London. They succeeded until Messi broke the deadlock just before the break. What followed was an absolute thriller of a second half, where Arsenal managed to tie the game without having managed a single shot on target. In the end, Xavi and Messi responded by finding the target and securing Barça’s passage into the second round.
Things started well for Barça. They had Arsenal absolutely smothered and created constant pressure, with Busquets and Mascherano simply magnificent. All the football was in Arsenal’s half, and things looked even worse for them when in the 18th minute they were obliged to switch their injured keeper Szczesny for Almunia. But the English club managed to weather the storm with some very intense defending, although the home fans may have had a point when they screamed for a penalty on Messi.
Despite Barça’s staggering dominance, they were missing that extra spark to convert it into goals. Adriano came closest when he hit the post after a zippy 36th minute run down the left, but five minutes into first half injury time, it looked like it would still be all-square at the break. But then Iniesta found Messi, and the Argentinian cheekily chipped the ball over Almunia and met the ball as it came down to make it 1-0.
In the first half, Barcelona had looked the only side that wanted to win it, but Arsenal were now obliged to take more risks. It became a feast of end-to-end football, and then in the 53rd minute, the Gunners equalised when Busquets headed a corner into his own net. The Londoners hadn’t had a single shot on target, yet they were back level!
But then came another unexpected twist, when Van Persie got himself sent off for shooting when offside, a second bookable offence, and from there on Barcelona had the game under their complete control.
It was disturbingly similar situation to the one we had against Inter a in the semi finals last year. But Arsenal are no Italians. Enjoying even more space than ever, it was only some last-ditch defending and excellent interventions by Almunia that kept the score level.
The second goal finally came in the 69th minute when Iniesta, Villa and Xavi produced a brilliant combination play, and the latter completed the move with the kind of brilliance we have come to expect of him. This scoreline would have sent the game into extra time, but the Catalans didn’t want to wait, and Messi made it 3-1 by converting a clear penalty on Pedro. The Camp Nou could start celebrating.
Facing Barça’s passing machine and with one man less was proving too much for Arsenal, and they were visibly tired of being outnumbered and outclassed. But there were twenty minutes left to play and one goal was still all they needed to qualify.
The Barça fans had their hearts in their mouths when Danish striker found himself through on goal in the 87th minute, but a match-saving tackle from Mascherano saved the day. Ultimately, the best side clearly won, and Barça also showed that they know how to battle for the right result. They are into the last eight and the Wembley dream is still very much alive.