BARCELONA 4-1 ARSENAL (Barcelona win 6-3 on aggregate)
By Shane Thomas
One of the all-time great Champions League performances from Lionel Messi destroyed a callow Arsenal in the Nou Camp. The Argentine scored all four Barcelona goals in an attacking masterclass. Let the debate end here and now, Wayne Rooney is not the world's premier footballer, not even close. Apart from the fact that they both wear the number 10 shirt, the similarities end there.
As far as Arsenal are concerned, they went out - to quote TS Eliot - not with a bang, but with a whimper. It's easily forgotten that they took the lead in the game and the tie. Nicklas Bentder scoring after he made more of Theo Walcott's cross than the quality of the delivery deserved.
In hindsight, Arsenal scoring first ended up being the worst thing that happened to them. Barcelona, and Messi in particular were stung into responding. He had already given Arsenal due warning with two long range efforts that came close. At the third time of asking, he fired the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box. The second followed soon after, a delicate chip over Manuel Almunia, in a move that he started, playing Eric Abidal clear after the Arsenal back line were caught square. Messi completed his fourth hat-trick of the season in 21 minutes and it was the highlight of the night. Thomas Vermaelen overcommitted himself to a header on the half-way line and Messi burst through the space vacated by the Belgian. I can say no more about the finish as I am unable to describe how good it was. I suggest you raid the Internet to find the goal, it will be worth it.
What was frustrating from Arsenal's perspective was how poor they were in possession. They worked hard, and did a much better job of closing the Catalans down than they did last Wednesday. However, whenever they got the ball they rarely strung any more than three passes together. If the Champions League is a step up in class, then the Nou Camp is football's Mount Everest. Trying to climb its summit left them dizzy and caused them to figuratively pass out. Maybe this goes some towards explaining why Arsenal gave the ball away so much. Anyone who's played football before, at any level, knows the game is never more tiring than when you don't have the ball. Whenever Arsenal did get it they were found wanting, either through a poor pass execution or poor choice of pass.
Indeed, it will probably be forgotten that while Arsenal were 1-0 up Theo Walcott raced into space in the inside-right channel. Abou Diaby inexplicably opted to ignore his team mate. Within two minutes they had lost the ball, Messi had pulled Barca level, the momentum had firmly shifted to the home side, and the tie was over. You don't get margin for error against this team, no second chances, no do-overs. Like a shark in the water, give them a scent of blood and they will gleefully gobble you up without a second thought.
However, the abiding memory of the game will be the performance of Leo Messi. Every now and then sport becomes more than a simple athletic contest and evolves into sheer beauty, worthy of standing alongside any great film, song or art installation. And despite the personal allegiances I have, I was one of the privileged few to witness it. If you missed this game, then you missed out.
Here's the link for my match ratings for both teams http://sportshistoryshow.blogspot.com/2010/04/barcelona-vs-arsenal-match-ratings.html
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