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You Just Cannot Count This Team Out
So, let me begin by saying that I was probably thinking what alot of you were after reading guest contributor, Greg Schwartz’s article yesterday regarding starting Eboue and Walcott on the left. In fact, I told him to expect to be flamed, but, to his great credit, he stuck to his guns. Now Walcott and Eboue may not have played on the left, but they both came on as subs and had a major impact on the match.
With a day to reflect back on the match, let me share some of my thoughts. I believe I can say with NO exaggeration that yesterday was the worst 60 minutes of football I have ever seen from the Arsenal. In my over ten years as an Arsenal supporter, I have never seen us so completely dominated for so long a period of time.
Yet, having said that, I believe we once again showed immense character, of the kind that has kept us in the title race this season. In fact, I am more proud of the side after that display than I was after the 6-1 win over Everton on the opening weekend. This team just does not know when to quit, when to lay down and die.
Regarding possession, I felt we enabled them to dominate possession by giving the ball away so cheaply and so often. It was like we had a team of 2007 Diabys out there. But, in the end, what did Barca do with their possession? Nothing, really. Their two goals both came from disappointing, fundamental errors on the part of Almunia and the defense letting Ibrahimovic get in between Song and Clichy when Vermaelen had pushed up too high. Their goals were our own fault. For all that great football, none of it got them a goal.
I don’t know what I can say really about Cesc’s yellow card except that, to me, it wasn’t a foul and an English referee would never have given it. That he will now miss the return leg has to be crushing for him. On the night, I thought Nasri was our most consistent player in attack and I don’t rate our chances much less knowing that he will be in Cesc’s central role.
The substitutions of Theo and Eboue made the difference for us last night as Barca, especially Maxwell, could not deal with Theo’s pace nor Eboue’s directness. If we are to get the result we need at the Nou Camp, I believe those two will have to be on the pitch. Let’s also not forget Bendtner who set up both goals.
Consider that, to injuries, we lost our captain, our former captain, and our most explosive player in Arshavin (for three weeks now with a calf strain) and a 2-2 result even at home to the best team in the world doesn’t seem too shabby at all. I have watched Barca a fair amount this season and that first sixty minutes was some of the best football I’ve seen them play all season. It has not been par for the course this season, like it was last season. They will need to replicate that performance and more if they want to go through.
The pressure is on them, the holders playing the second leg at home, not us. And we seem to play better when that is the case. In that case, the away goals mean less than usual because we must go to the Nou Camp to win anyway. Arsene wouldn’t have it any other way.
This match, despite being dominated for such long stretches of the match, will only breed more confidence in the side that no matter what happens, we always have a chance. I believe we can go to Barcelona and get the result we need to go through, especially considering Barca will now be missing Pique and Puyol for the return. As I said last week regarding the title race, the same applies here… it’s not over yet!