For Arsenal, most players gave the sort of performance you would expect; there were no flops. So many column inches have been given to Jack Wilshere I’d almost rather not mention his name and quell the hype surrounding him. Koscielny had a fine game against Barcelona, and while he is still capable of making mistakes, that Wednesday night he was excellent.
For Barcelona, most players played as expected although I was expecting Messi to have far more impact than he did. His slide-through ball for the first goal was well timed and weighted, but aside from that he was a littler quieter than his form suggested he would be. Flop he is not, but below his excellent standards… maybe. Pedro was similar to a pin dropping in his quietness – although Clichy deserves praise for that, and Maxwell also showed that the only place he’ll ever be able to match Walcott is on his Xbox.
If I had to pick one stand-out performer from each team, it would have to be Jack Wilshere for Arsenal and Éric Abidal for Barcelona.
Despite his tender age, Wilshere put in an extraordinary performance and was arguably the Man of the Match. His performance was all the more impressive if we consider that he was up against Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, a World Cup-winning midfield trio. Still, it was Wilshere who stood out on the night, which really is a testament to his performance. He completed 93% of his passes during the game. Only Xavi and Iniesta boasted (slightly) higher passing success rates.
As for Eric Abidal, he has been absolutely outstanding this season, both at centre-back and left-back. The Arsenal match was no different, as no one could get past Abidal. On a day where Piqué and Maxwell underperformed, Abidal was the only one saving Barcelona’s defense from collapse. Brilliant stuff from the man who once said that if Barcelona didn’t renew his contract, he’d just retire from football altogether.
As for the flops, I’d go with Alex Song and Lionel Messi. Alex Song was extremely lucky not to have been sent off in the first half; kicking Barcelona players was pretty much all he did while on the pitch. Taking him off the pitch for Arshavin proved to be a very good decision and the catalyst to Arsenal’s reaction.
Finally, saying Lionel Messi was a flop is certainly a very controversial statement. I wouldn’t say he was horrible, but he has set the standards so high for himself than his performance must be considered a bit disappointing. Sure, he assisted Villa and he caused troubles to the Arsenal defense, but he had a disastrous night in front of goal. A normal Messi could have put the tie to bed in the first half.
This might be a bit harsh, but (extremely) high expectations come with the territory of being the most talented player of this generation by such a huge distance. I’m confident that Messi will be his usual brilliant self in the second leg.