You can’t say that they played bad, but the Gunners definitely had a strong advantage in the second half. They found ways to stretch Barca’s defense and create startlingly, at times, wide open space for Van Persie and Fabregas to go forward. You’re always going to miss a player of Carles Puyol’s quality and calibre, but I thought his absence from Barca’s line-up became readily apparent in this match. Also, again, I would never say that Xavi played bad. He’s just set the standard so high with his play that when he doesn’t exert his usual level of dominance on a match–it’s noticeable. The give-and-gos worked by Lionel Messi and David Villa in the first half were gorgeous. You have to give immense credit to Arsenal’s backline for making that space vanish in the second half. How many teams have tried to slow those two guys down this season? Only to end up staring down the barrel of a 4-0 scoreline. I was really surprised that David Villa was subbed before the 70 minute mark. I expect torrid, furious football from Barca in the 2nd leg.
I loved Van Persie’s persistence yesterday. He had chances throughout the match and just seemed absolutely unable to hit the target, sending chance after chance wide or sailing into the stands. But he kept going forward. Finally, Gael Clichy provided phenomenal service and Van Persie took advantage of the surprising amount of space Victor Valdes gave him to slot in a beautiful goal that ignited the supporters. I’m probably Samir Nasri’s biggest fan in the United States, but you have to recognize and be impressed with his conditioning and athleticism in light of the fact that he played 90+ effective minutes against the best side in the world after missing the previous few weeks due to a bad hamstring injury. Nasri played a pivotal role in Arshavin’s game winning goal and there is no way that the Gunners can compete with Barca without him. I’ve been skeptical of some of Arsene Wenger’s substitutions this season, but his decision to insert Arshavin for the last quarter of the match, like he did against Everton a few weeks back, was brilliant. If nothing else, this win will hopefully erase the damaging memories and lingering stench of the Newcastle disaster.
Here is a video of all the insanity that happened in the AS Roma v. Shakhtar Donetsk match yesterday in Rome: