First, I need to admit as a culé it was difficult to watch my boys lose to the Gunners. A fan takes a lot of pride in their team and loss is never an easy thing. I am proud of the principles and standards of FC Barcelona, and have long been an advocate of possession football over direct football. And that’s why it was particularly painful to witness the Blaugrana defeated by Arsenal: they lost at their own game.
Second, apologies for taking two days before putting my thoughts online, but matches like this require respectful reflection. The malaise needs to pass first, then one has to empty the mind of enough bias in order to review honestly. Rewatching the match earlier today was no easy task, but it was a necessary one. In hindsight I’m glad to have done so.
What happened at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday was a good day for football. We saw highly technical players engaged in a creative match who worked hard on the pitch. We saw supporters on Arsenal’s side who gave everything they had to let their players know they were behind them all the way. We saw a coach in Wenger who finally realized a victory he’d dared hoped to achieve in what has been a somewhat precarious season. And to see the pure elation on his face with Arshavin’s goal was a joy to watch–even for this culé. For someone who is ever mindful of his comments and his perception, Arsene deserved that win if only for that spontaneous, ingenuous expression of delight.
Arsene’s boys most assuredly deserved their win against Barcelona as well. And compared to the average age of Barça’s players, the Gunners really are boys especially in Wilshere’s case. They didn’t freeze up as they had last season, but came at the Blaugrana and never let go. Barcelona were under incessant attack by the London club and it showed throughout the match. The Catalan club was getting pressed as hard as they are wont to doing themselves. It was a strange sight indeed to see that. I suspect it felt as strange for Barcelona’s players too. There were times our boys were obviously rattled that night.
Pep may have been given a lesson in defense. Sure, we’re an attacking side, but so is Arsenal. They’ve shown a way to play attractive possession football yet present a firm defense at the moment of transition. It might be something to consider as a plan ‘B’ should form drop or goals be harder to come by, all to be expected throughout a long season. In truth, the principle is what matters, not the formation or the specific tactics. So long as the aim is for possession, to attack, and to play attractively, Wenger’s tactics violated none of those requirements. Something to think about, Señor Guardiola.
The question has been put to the Blaugrana and come 8 March, the boys will have to answer it. My hope is they will answer definitively in the affirmative. The way to victory is there. In the meantime, I should take solace that our defeat on 16 February was a good day for football, because it was a night where possibly the best club in history was defeated by another club born of the very same principles.