Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Barcelona @ Arsenal - Part I

Taking a look at last week's first leg of the UEFA Quarters, when I know the second leg was played today. I'll be running behind throughout this little project, it seems, but I don't mind.

This game was a heavyweight fight between two teams who I take it are somewhat equally respected and both legitimate contenders for the title here. My impression of this game (and I could be completely wrong, who knows) is that Barcelona is the more veteran, more confident team and that Arsenal, while very good and talented have something to prove before they are considered quite at Barcelona's level.

And the opening beared that out as Barcelona dominated the first half, keeping offensive pressure on almost throughout (something like nine shots with six on goal in the first 15 minutes), but despite their control of the pace of the game managed just a 0-0 tie going into the break. Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia had several spectacular saves in the first half, but erred at the very beginning of the second half on a long pass down to Barcelona forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic who lofted it softly over the keeper who was caught in no man's land between defending the goal and attacking the offender.

Arsenal responded a bit with a header on goal a few minutes later, but Barcelona extended their lead when a beautifully played ball found a cutting Ibrahimovic for another goal over the pressing Arsenal defenders.

But, when Arsenal subbed Theo Walcott about midway through the second half, he immediately provided a spark, getting a couple runs at the goalie, the second of which resulted in the first Arsenal goal of the night, in the 69th minute.

With Arsenal continuing to press down one goal in their home leg, they finally got another prime chance when Fabregas was fouled on a scrap for a ball in the box. The penalty was a marginal call, but resulted in a free kick for Fabregas who knocked it home easily to tie up the match. In the meantime, Barcelona defender Puyol was redcarded and Fabregas, sometime between pulling the ball out of the net and getting to the sideline with it, fell down in a heap and spent the rest of the match limping severely, rendering it more or less a ten-on-ten matchup. (Fabregas had received his second yellow card in two games earlier in the match, eliminating him from the second leg of the round regardless of the injury. Barcelona defender Pique had also been double-yellowed out of the next leg).

In the end, both teams were pleased enough to settle on the 2-2 tie, setting up a second leg in which Arsenal will need to pull out a win to advance.

Other notes from a novice:

Thierry Henry - I am familiar with from his play with France in international competition, but I found out tonight that he is the all-time leading goal scorer in Arsenal history, and this was his first game back there. The Arsenal crowd gave him a warm ovation, until he touched the ball, at least.

Fabregas - The opposite of Henry; he started at Barcelona and plays with Arsenal now. He'll get no chance for an ovation from his old team's fans as he will not be eligible to play in the second leg due to his two yellows.

Eboue - I like this guy, good speedy midfielder who can make plays offensively with his speed and disrupt the other team defensively.

Nasri - Perhaps my favorite Arsenal player at first glance, a creative player in space.

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