In almost 10 years of going to matches, I’ve seen the Arsenal lose and draw a number of times, but I’ve never seen them so thoroughly outplayed and destroyed as when they met Barcelona in March 2010; and yet they still came away from the game with a draw.
It was the two teams’ first meeting since the 2006 Champions League Final and the game marked the first reunion of Thierry Henry with his former club. There was much hype surrounding the game, as the two teams involved are generally considered to play the two most aesthetically pleasing styles of game in Europe, and that any watcher was to witness a spectacle of how football is played.
Those in search of majestic football were not to be disappointed, but (for the first half hour at least) those in search of a level contest would be. Barcelona ripped shreds from Arsenal and from a fan’s perspective, I’ve rarely seen football that good since Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of the 2003/2004 campaign - but more on them later. Barcelona began the onslaught as early as a minute in, when they earned a corner, the result of which was Sergio Busquets slamming an effort against the post. I was placed behind Victor Valdes’s first half goal, and I would not see the ball anywhere close to me for half an hour. Only the performance of a lifetime from Manuel Almunia had kept Arsenal from being annihilated.
Eventually, Arsenal strode forward, and came close themselves with a Samir Nasri effort drifting past Valdes’s left-hand post. Half time came as welcome relief, but Arsène Wenger’s gambles to rush William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin back from injury had backfired, as both were taken off before the half’s end. The teams re-entered for Act II and the Catalans continued their first half rampage. Gerard Pique, in possession on the half-way line, spotted that Thomas Vermaelen had been drawn forward by the ever-present threat of Lionel Messi, and as makeshift centre-half Alex Song had left Zlatan Ibrahimovic open, the Spanish defender sent the ball over to the free Swede, who took full advantage of Almunia’s indecision as to whether to commit to the loose ball by lobbing it over the dithering Spaniard’s head.
Barcelona’s second came in very similar fashion. Vermaelen caught away from the defensive line and Song did not get tight to Ibrahimovic, but this time, Ibrahimovic exploited an opening at Manuel Almunia’s near post. Arsenal looked finished. There looked to be no hope for them, and many thoughts were directed to how many more were to be conceded. With things the way they were, Barça looked unplayable.
6 minutes after Barcelona’s second, Theo Walcott was introduced to proceedings. Then Arsenal began to attack, and he had got the better of Maxwell twice already, and Arsenal suddenly began to look dangerous. Nasri knocked a pass to Bendtner, who held up the ball for a few seconds before sliding the ball through to Walcott. It was a golden opportunity for Arsenal, and if there was any hope of a comeback, it would have to be taken. Walcott’s effort was poor, but it escaped under the body of Valdes and into the net. There was a renewed belief about the Arsenal players, but even moreso amongst the fans. The atmosphere had started as electric, but as the goals went in, the crowd became more deflated, but when Walcott’s effort hit the net, the Arsenal faithful regained a hope that was all but lost after they fell two goals behind.
Away from the actual play, the moment for which so many of the Arsenal fans had been waiting arrived 77 minutes in. Thierry Henry replaced Ibrahimovic and was awarded a rapturous reception. For 8 incredible years, Henry lit up the red half of North London; he was voted Arsenal’s Greatest Ever by a poll on the club website; he holds Arsenal’s all-time goalscoring record; he was at the forefront of their 2002 double-winning team and the aforementioned ‘Invincibles’ - quite simply, the Frenchman is an Adonis to the Arsenal and for a moment, the intensity of the game simmered as we in the crowd welcomed home a hero of years gone by.
Back to the play, Arsenal looked as though they could achieve what at the hour mark seemed impossible and draw level. At 85 minutes, Eboué played the ball to Walcott down the right-hand side. He delivered a low cross, but it was deflected off Carles Puyol and looped into the air. It arrived on the head of Nicklas Bendtner and his positioning meant that he was unable to make an attempt at goal, but he did incredibly to nod to ball towards Cesc Fàbregas. The former La Masia man arched himself for the shot, but was caught by Puyol. The latter was red-carded and Arsenal had a penalty.
The Arsenal Captain stood against his compatriot Valdes. He was a Barcelona fan growing up, he played for their youth academy with Pique and Messi, amongst others, and now he had the chance to level the scoring for the side who gave him the opportunity to reach his potential as one of the World’s finest creative players. The entire stadium fell silent. Fàbregas stepped up and blasted the ball straight into the Barcelona net. The fans, as a collective, went insane with delight. Even fans on the Upper Tier were jumping and singing - a very rare occurrence.
At this point, everyone looked back to the pitch, and saw the goalscorer Fàbregas limping back to the centre circle. He had broken a bone in his leg in his challenge with Puyol and yet had still picked himself up to score from the spot. Any who questioned the Captain’s commitment to the club were silenced in dramatic fashion. He was to miss the rest of the season which, it can be argued, scuppered Arsenal’s then strong title challenge.
I have since re-watched the game and still found myself aghast at the sight of such an incredible footballing spectacle. The football played early on by Barcelona was extraordinary, but even moreso was the spirit shown by Arsenal, after being pummelled for the majority by Barcelona, to come back and gain a draw; topped off by Thierry Henry’s return home, it really was a brilliant night of football.
- mjk17 posted this