Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona
Arsenal had conquered the Spanish giants, the impossible had been done.
Few gave Arsenal any chance going into the match but at the end of the day all the critics had been silenced and Arsenal triumphed over the mighty Catalans.
A 25th minute goal via David Villa gave Barcelona the lead. But goals from van Persie and Arshavin in the 78th and 83rd minute completed a remarkable night at the Emirates.
It was Arsenal’s first win over Barcelona in European competition and the win has given Arsenal hope of qualifying for the next stage.
Here are nine conclusions from Wednesday’s thriller:
Johan Djourou has been Arsenal’s best defender so far this season. He has been mammoth at the back and has bailed out his teammates and defensive partner whenever they made a mistake.
But on Wednesday he put in a decent performance but he was not the commanding force he usually is. He looked a bit off pace and was caught out of position a few times. It was in no way a bad performance but Djourou looked a bit out of color.
His defensive partner on the night, Laurent Koscielny had to bail him out on a couple of occasions. On the night it was evident that Djourou badly requires a break. The injury to Thomas Vermaelen and the poor partnership of Koscielny and Squillaci at the back has forced Wenger into giving, Djourou more playing time than he would have liked.
After all this is his first season since returning from injury and Wenger would have wanted to ensure that he doesn’t get injured once again. In the past couple of months Arsenal’s packed fixture list has meant that Djourou has played several games.
Arsenal will need Djourou firing on cylinders to lift a trophy but the best thing would be to give him a break so that as the season reaches its close he will be back to his best.
Like mentioned in the last slide, Djourou did struggle a bit but his defensive partner on the other hand could not put a foot wrong. Koscielny was everywhere on the night, making crucial tackles and carrying out interceptions.
His anticipation and pace rescued Arsenal on more than one occasion. It is hard to fathom that just couple of seasons back he was playing in France’s second division. On Wednesday he kept the likes of Villa, Messi in his pocket, players who are the best in world football right now.
After getting off to a tough start, Laurent Koscielny is finally finding his feet at the Emirates and Wednesday’s performance exemplified his massive improvement.
As Arsenal’s defense has gone from strength to strength over the past two months a lot of praise was heaped on Johan Djourou. Some Arsenal fans were still skeptical about Koscielny and believed that his mistakes were being covered by Djourou.
But on Wednesday he proved that he is equally essential for Arsenal’s defense and can lead the defense.
Arsenal’s defense has been excellent this year especially the pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou.
The two of them have conceded just one goal in close to 600 minutes this year and that goal too was offside. The two of them have conceded just two goals all season. The second goal the two of them conceded came against Chelsea.
The defensive partnership of Djourou and Koscielny have put in solid performances against the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City.
They have kept six clean sheets together and have looked extremely solid, composed and assured at the back.
All the while Thomas Vermaelen has been absent to injury. Before the start of the season he was considered Arsenal’s best defender and many thought Arsenal would struggle in his absence.
But Djourou’s and Koscielny’s performances have ensured that he has not been missed. Now the question that arises is: will he get his place back in the Arsenal starting lineup?
At the start of the season that would have been a ridiculous question but right now it makes more sense to stick with Djourou and Koscielny. They have been firing on all cylinders and any change could affect the shape of the entire defense.
Ever since Jack Wilshere broke into Arsenal’s first team squad, people haven’t stopped praising Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. And after seeing him perform it is easy to see why.
He plays with the composure of a highly experienced and seasoned veteran. He can hardly put a foot wrong and proved that he can be the midfield dynamo for Arsenal.
All the performance against Barcelona did was increase the talk and praise about this prodigy.
Wilshere is just 19 and you would expect a youngster of his age be overawed by the entire situation of playing one of the greatest teams of all time, Barcelona.
He initiated Arsenal’s second goal with a good pass to Fabregas and was a standout performer in the midfield battle that included names like Xavi, Iniesta.
It’s hard to fathom that he is only 19 but one thing is for certain this lad is destined for greatness.
Victor Valdes is a highly talented goalkeeper but he only made his national debut in 2010. The reason being to put it simply inconsistency.
In Wednesday’s match it is hard to imagine how he was beaten at the near post by van Persie’s shot. It is a basic rule for all goalkeepers to cover their near post but Valdes forgot this elementary and he and his side went onto pay dearly.
Valdes has improved a great deal over the past couple of years but the mistakes are not completely gone.
Valdes has put in several good performances this year but he also tend to make a fair deal of mistakes. A good keeper is someone who is solid and consistent and not just a good shot stopper.
The Spanish National side has two more extremely talented keepers namely, Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina. Both are two of the best keepers in world football and Valdes’s errors mean that he will struggle to displace Casillas and Reina in the pecking order.
Behind all of Barcelona’s attacking flair and prowess and outer brilliance Arsenal demonstrated on Wednesday that they too have their flaws.
Last season when the two sides clashed Theo Walcott’s pace caused havoc in the Barcelona’s back four. This time in the first half, Walcott did create a few problems for the Catalan giants. In the first half he was Arsenal’s best threat going forward.
Barcelona tend to defend with a high line and normally their fullbacks enjoy venturing out forward. Arsenal looked to exploit the space behind the fullbacks and succeeded in doing so on certain occasions.
In the second half Arsenal played with a much faster tempo and Barcelona struggled to contain the Gunners. They failed to keep pace and Arsenal were the better side in the second half as they dictated the tempo.
Barcelona may be the best attacking side in the world but at the back in the absence of Puyol they are suspect and they still need to sort out a few problems.
Close to 45 days, Arsenal fans had just booed one of their own players after he put on another sloppy and torrid performance.
Now that player inspired Arsenal to a crucial win over Everton and then repeated the magic once more but this time against Barcelona, the world’s finest.
After coming on as a substitute for Alex Song, Arshavin scored Arsenal’s winner, coolly slotting past Valdes to send the Emirates erupting.
Arshavin’s entire season has been riddled with inconsistency but now the diminutive Russian is finally back to his best. A great performance against Wolves was followed up by a match winning performance against Barcelona.
Arshavin doesn’t have much longer left in his contract and several Arsenal fans felt that his contract need not be extended. But he has shown that he has enough quality to overcome adversity and is still Arsenal’s star.
Arsene Wenger should look to keep him because even when not at his best, he can contribute to the game.
In Arsenal's Fourth Round clash against Huddersfield Town, Samir Nasri picked up a hamstring injury that was supposed to keep him out for 21 days but he returned to the starting lineup in just 17 days and featured in Arsenal's 2-1 win over Barcelona.
Prior to the match even Wenger had stated that it was a crazy gamble to play Nasri but in the end he went ahead with it and it reaped rich dividends. Nasri set up as Arshavin for the winner and put in a decent performance.
Wenger knew that Nasri would add quality to Arsenal's squad so he went ahead with the risk despite the chances of it backfiring.
This showed how desperate he was to win this match. It was perfectly understandable.
Arsenal has been termed as Chokers who cannot fight it out against the heavyweights and many questioned the success of Arsenal's passing game against the top teams.
Wenger was desperate to show the world that his side can do it and do it they did.
The match against Barcelona proved that Arsenal are no longer a team filled with boys but have real talent and this squad has finally matured.
Last season Arsenal's title challenge collapsed when injuries wrecked havoc to the first team members. Even in 2007-08 it was a similar story as Arsenal narrowly missed out on the Premier League.
The Barcelona match showed us that Arsenal are mentally tough to go the distance this season and have the mental character and fortitude to reach great heights this season.
This season Arsenal have abundant depth in almost every position and are oozing in quality and talent. Even if injuries do fall upon certain players, Arsenal have other players who will step up. Arsenal have developed match winners in the absence of Fabregas, van Persie.
All this points to the fact that Arsenal are championship material and can achieve greatness this season. With a fully fit team this season Arsenal are looking fantastic and are playing some breathtaking football.
Arsenal can no longer afford any excuses this season and they have to deliver the goods because this squad is capable of beating the best.