Barcelona trashed Arsenal 4-1 at the Nou Camp this evening to set up a Champions League semi final with Inter. Leo Messi was the difference maker, scoring all four of Barca’s goals as they ran out 6-3 winners on aggregate.
Arsenal took the lead in the early stages, despite Barcelona monopolising possession. Theo Walcott burst free on the right flank and slipped the ball to Nicklas Bendtner who slotted home after Victor Valdez’s initial save.
The plaudits will rightly go to Messi, who absolutely decimated the Gunners back line, but from an Arsenal perspective it was yet another case of lots of little things adding up to another night that could have been.
Arsenal had a golden opportunity to extend their lead with the score still at 1-0. Abou Diaby drove at the heart of the Barca defence but chose the wrong option, he looked to pass left when Walcott had lost his marker and through on goal.
It was a critical mistake for the Gunners, as Messi went up the other end and scored with a thunder bolt of a strike.
As good as the strike was, there was an element of good fortune about it, as Mikael Silvestre knocked the ball straight back to Messi on the edge of the box. Of course, the Argentinean was the sharpest player in the vicinity and ruthlessly punished the slight mistake.
But it’s fine margins like these that always seem to go against Arsenal in games of this magnitude.
The same logic could be applied to Barcelona’s second. Eric Abidal pierced down the left flank to cross, he was onside, but Bendtner had been flagged offside minutes earlier when he burst through on the opposite flank.
Another fine margin, but when the ball came into the middle Silvestre didn’t deal with it properly–jabbing it into the danger area–and Pedro nipped back in (from a possible offside position)to cutely set up Messi to finish in devastating fashion.
It’s difficult to take, but these fine margins make the difference in games like these. It reminds me of the Al Pacino speech in Any Given Sunday, Barcelona had the talent but also the necessary desire to send them into the next round of the Champions League.
It’s back to the drawing board for Arsenal, and chances are this will be yet another trophy less season for Arsene Wenger’s side. As the Frenchman looks back and reflects on yet another unsuccessful campaign, what conclusions will he come to?
And more importantly, what action will he take to address them?