Barcelona displayed an amazing brand of football in a 4-1 demolition of Arsenal at the Camp Nou. Arsenal took a surprise lead through a Nicklas Bendtner goal but it was the Lionel Messi show from there on as the Argentine scored four goals to ensure Barcelona progressed to the semi finals for a show down with Inter Milan.
Barcelona’s four-goal Messiah
Everyone expected the second leg of this tie to be a display of magnificent football but with both teams missing key starters due to injury and suspensions, it threatened to be anything but.
Barcelona had both their central defenders out suspended and were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who suffered a calf injury at the weekend. This prompted Pep Guardiola to hand the defensive duties to the experienced pair of Gabriel Milito and Rafael Marquez. In the absence of Ibrahimovic, Bojan Krkic got a rare start on the left side of midfield.
As for Arsenal, Wenger had a host of injuries to deal with and the injury to Song only added to their woes. In the absence of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri started in the centre of midfield with Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott manning the wings. Sol Campbell was deemed unfit to start which meant Mikel Silvestre partnered Vermaelen in the centre.
The match began at a much more relaxed pace than the first leg with both teams looking to settle down into a rhythm. Barcelona were content in holding onto to possession and Arsenal, mindful of their performance in at The Emirates, looked to deny the Barcelona players any space to work with. As has been Guardiola’s want this season, come the big games, Messi starts down the middle and the little genius wasted no time getting into the game, firing a warning shot just over the bar.
Barcelona had the better of the exchanges early in the first half, but it was Arsenal who took the lead against the run of play. Gabriel Milito was dispossessed by Diaby, and Samir Nasri picked up the loose ball to send Theo Walcott away on the right. Walcott squared for Bendtner to tap-in, which he did on the second attempt after Valdes denied him brilliantly.
In true champion style, Barcelona’s response was immediate. Three minutes after going behind, magical Messi equalised through an unstoppable thunderbolt of a shot from just outside the box.
As the game progressed, Barcelona began to pass the ball fluently and looked the better of the two teams. It was inevitable then when the second goal came. It was Lionel Messi once again who was at the center of it. He played a delicate ball which put the over lapping Eric Abidal behind the Arsenal defense. The Frenchman’s low cross into the box was slightly disappointing but the weak clearance fell to Pedro who laid it off for the mercurial Argentine. Messi skipped past Gael Clichy and slotted the ball past Manuel Almunia to give the Catalans the lead.
Arsenal looked slightly deflated and it resulted in a third for Lionel Messi just before half-time. Seydou Keita beat Sagna to a header which found Messi completely unmarked in Arsenal’s half. The little man finished off the run with an audaciousl chip over Manuel Almunia doubling Barcelona’s lead.
Messi had a chance to score a fourth but his touch deserted him for once. The score remained 3-1 at halftime with Barcelona looking dangerous against a subdued Arsenal team.
The second half started in much the same fashion with Barcelona happy to pass the ball around and control possession. Arsenal started the second half well and harried the Barcelona players from the beginning. Pep Guardiola was forced to make a change early in the second half as Eric Abidal went off injured with Maxwell replacing him at left back.
With the game looking fairly comfortable for Barcelona, Guardiola decided to sit back and control the game from midfield, and brought on Yaya Toure in place of the young Bojan Krkic. With Yaya on the field, Barcalona continued to look comfortable in possession and were quite happy to hold onto the ball without creating any real chances.
The first real chance in the 2nd half fell to Bendtner on a quick Arsenal counter but the Dane took a second too long on the ball allowing Milito to slide in and clear the ball. Arsenal threatened for a short while and Tomas Rosicky had a wonderful opportunity to pull a goal back. He was unmarked on the edge of the Barcelona box when an unintentional Walcott cross found its way to the Czech international. Rosicky shot wildly over the bar and the chance was lost.
As the half went on, it was quite evident that Arsenal were finding it hard to break a resolute Barcelona defense. The Catalans were holding the majority of the possession and even though Arsenal were trying to attack, it was the Catalans who looked the more likely to increase their lead.
With the clock running down, a clever Xavi ball found an unmarked Lionel Messi who ran past two Arsenal defenders and took an angled shot which was well saved by Almunia. It wasn’t Arsenal’s day though as Messi coolly slotted the rebound between the goalkeeper’s legs to cap a wonderful individual performance.
Arsenal were completely outclassed and Barcelona progressed into the next round to face Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
There was only one man who was in contention – young Lionel Messi. The young Argentine put out a wonderful individual performance to seal Barcelona’s spot in the next round. Messi played an almost perfect game, dropping deep when required and making darting runs when the opportunity presented itself. A mesmerizing performance by the best footballer in the world. Arsenal had no answer for his constant movement and his four goals in a truly memorable performance make him the Man of the Match.
TheHardTackle’s REFEREE REPORT CARD
Name: Wolfgang Stark
Grade: B (Average)
The referee was guilty of giving a few soft fouls as a few players from both sides went down too easily. Denilson was booked for what was a clean challenge on Messi and Busquets got a few very soft calls in his favour as the referee was averse to any physical play. On the whole, Stark had an average game and lacked a bit of consistency when it came to certain decisions.
FC BARCELONA 4-1 ARSENAL FC
Venue: Camp Nou
Barcelona line-up: Valdes, Alves, Milito, Marquez, Abidal (Maxwell 53’), Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Pedro (Iniesta 86’), Messi, Bojan Krkic (Toure 55’).
Manager: Josep Guardiola
Sent Off: None
Scorers: Lionel Messi (21’, 37’, 42’, 88’)
Arsenal line-up: Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Sylvestre (Eboue 63’), Clichy, Diaby, Rosicky (Eduardo 73’), Nasri, Walcott, Denilson, Bendtner.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Cautions: Denilson, Eboue, Rosicky
Sent Off: None
Scorers: Nicolas Bendtner (19’)