Passion and resilience: These are not two words that one would normally associate with the Gunners, yet on the night at the Nou Camp, Arsenal epitomized these two traits with a strong-willed but ultimately unsuccessful battle against Barcelona.
Arsenal might have been outplayed and out-passed by the Blaugrana in the second leg, but the way Arsenal fought was exemplary and the determination and steel they showed in their defending was something that most of us felt were beyond the Gunners.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Wenger’s side persevered and fought hardly ever giving up.
Yet, at the end of the night, the deserving team stood victorious. But despite the loss to Barcelona, Arsenal should be proud of their display, a display that proved to the world that this team is made of stern stuff.
Arsene Wenger’s dream of winning the Champions League will have to wait another year at least, but he and his side can take away several positives from this tie.
What impressed me about Arsenal throughout both fixtures was Arsenal’s attitude. It’s common knowledge that Barcelona are the world’s best footballing side right now and Arsenal could have easily accepted defeat. But they fought it out, and for that, they deserve to be acknowledged.
For the majority of the tie, Barcelona launched attack after attack with the likes of Villa, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta laying siege to the Arsenal goal. Yet the back four, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Manuel Almunia in particular, stood resolutely and repelled each attack and got ready for more.
Yet they rarely indicated crumbling and collapsing like they have shown they are capable of doing. On the contrary, they were strong-willed, resolute and everything Arsenal critics said they never could be.
It was only when the number difference kicked in did the Gunners finally struggle. Yet, even then, the Gunners never gave up. They just lost to the better team.
There used to be a time when a single long throw from Rory Delap or a long punt by Paul Robinson could destroy the Arsenal defense and cause havoc among the defenders. That time has passed. Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou came up against the world’s best attack, and they would have had more success had it not been for Busacca.
Barcelona might have scored three at the end of the day, but that hardly does justice to Arsenal’s defenders, who have been brilliant throughout both legs.
Koscielny was exceptional throughout both legs, and the much-maligned defender is repaying Wenger’s faith in him with some great displays that have shown that with time he will become a great defender. Watching the number of tackles he and the defenders were throwing in time and time again, I felt it was only inevitable that a penalty would be conceded, and in the end, that is what happened.
Despite conceding the penalty, few can deny that Koscielny’s performance on the night deserves praise and applause. But it was not just Koscielny who was fantastic on the night.
Gael Clichy, Johan Djourou and Bacary Sagna all gave out their best for the team.
Clichy and Sagna are two full backs who enjoy venturing out forward, especially the former, and yet, on this occasion, they got every man behind the ball and defended stoutly. As a fan, it was pleasing to see the way the team defended with application and the team put in a performance that many did not expect from the Gunners.
Barcelona might have overran the Gunners when it came to possession and shots, but on the night, the Gunners defended with concentration
The strategy employed by Arsene Wenger on the night is testimony to his growing faith in his defenders and an indicator of how the team has progressed over the last year and the mentality in the side.
Wenger went ahead and employed a defensive strategy something none of us have seen him do, and it almost reaped rich dividends had it not been for Fabregas’s silly error and for Busacca’s erroneous red card of Robin van Persie.
Last year, despite the urgings of fans and pundits, Wenger never employed a defensive approach, but this time he took on the bold approach and it almost worked. This shows his growing faith in his defenders to repel the best of attackers.
This is not the first time Arsenal have put in a mature and sturdy defensive performance. Against the likes of Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers, teams against which Arsenal normally struggle, Arsenal put in solid performances but most importantly, their defense withstood the pressure to emerge victorious.
This season there is no doubting that Arsenal are a more mature side, but the fact remains there are still a few chinks in the armor, and the scope for improvement definitely exists.
Despite this impressive defensive showing, there is no denying that it also exposed some of Arsenal’s frailties. Despite Wenger’s defensive approach he will clearly be disappointed with the way Arsenal’s midfield and forwards were overrun by the dominant Catalan giants.
He would have at least expected his team to hold onto possession better and create a few opportunities.
Another aspect of Arsenal’s play that is becoming troublesome is the fact that often it is individual mistakes that is costing Arsenal matches. It was evident that Arsenal’s plan rested on going into halftime all square, and it almost worked, until Fabregas’ silly backheel cost his team dearly.
Even in the Carling Cup final it was a mistake from Szczesny and Koscielny that ultimately cost the team dearly. This season has all the chances of being a historic one for the Gunners, but individual errors and lapses of concentration are hurting the team.
On the night at Camp Nou, it became clear that this Arsenal side is not soft and weak-willed like they have been accused of being, but instead, this team is driven by the passion to win and the urge to bring home a trophy and silence their critics once and for al