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Thoughts on Arsenal v Barca at the Emirates


Established Member
This was supposed to be just a reply to the match ratings thread... until it grew into a monster post... whatever, here goes:

We were very much inhibited in the first 30 minutes
Inhibited is a nice and polite way of saying 'cowering embryonically in your jammies batting away assaults imagined or otherwise'.
When a team's inhibited many things happen:

1) You lose your awareness and shape. For protracted periods in the opening our players were not aware of what was going on about them. Which led to such nonsense as Sgt. Biscuits getting a shot on goal via a low cross from a corner with the nearest Arsenal player shopping at the local Tesco. Alternatively, not knowing there's a big gaping hole between you and the backline, a whole lot of hole for a player-in-the-hole to hole up in.

2) You don't know if you should be man-marking or zone-marking and end up doing neither, resulting in nonsense such as 3 players guarding one man while 4 Barca players line up to take a free header like they're waiting for the local bus. Except more punctual like.

3) You fail to clear your lines. Like the way Shava kept his head down and kept on dribbling 2 yards away from our box. Or the way Vermaelen watched an interesting tennis match in front of him not wanting to take the risk of joining.

4) You fail to communicate. Everyone is in their little personal nightmare, losing 5-0 before the first half is done. Nobody is up trying to kick each other’s arses to get on with it. Nasri, who was well awake but slow to defend, is also not up for banter.

Barca are a very sophisticated team
There’s not a single player there who can’t do pass and move. Barca really is Arsenal on steroids. And perhaps rightly so, since they follow the same philosophy without the extra shackles of relying on youth. In that sense, Arsenal is Barca Lite, apparently the same deal with less calories but tastes slightly off but you take it anyway cos you’ve grown to like it plus you're a closet metrosexual.

They foul and draw fouls in sophisticated ways as well, last minute stretchings of toes to get tripped or trip innocuously. Cute dives that even players don't notice, exaggerated falls when you are indeed fouled. I guess Cesc really does have Barca in his genes.

The first half wasn't all Barca
Credit to Nasri. Suddenly we realised 'hey, we can take these guys'. Yes, those chances were few and far between but it was no surprise that the pressure lifted once that shot was made. Suddenly you saw such insane travesties to the footballing world as Bendy making mugs out of 2 Barca players before sending in a super cross.
I have no idea how all the power went out of that ball when Diaby got his head to it. Seemed like someone installed an ABS system on it.

Pep said that Arsenal is strong in the opening minutes of the first half and in the dying minutes of the second. He's wrong. We're strong when we find our rhythm later on in both halves. We finished that half well, if it weren't for silly yellows and annoying injuries.

Good ol' long ball beats us every time
Every time. Every ****ing time. Blame whoever you want, after watching them again I thought the first was Al's fault and the second Clichy's ball-watching and TV's failed header. But the problem is psychological with the players still fail dealing with them. Some will blame Wenger pushing for a high line. The high line was a change of strategy, and it worked but for those individual errors, mostly down to lack of concentration or forgetting your brain until Wenger brought it back from the dressing room.

We saw the worst of Clichy and the best of Clichy
Again, poor positional awareness is obviously his weakness, yet how could we do without the superb interceptions-turned-attacks that he provided in the second half. The lead up to Bendy's header on goal was a lot down to Clichy.

Sagna on the other hand was less bothered except for the early minutes, yet was never able to contribute well to attack despite playing opposite Maxwell, Barca's least capable player.

The game played to Denilson’s strength and Shava off played to the team’s strengths. Diaby's a gambler.
The team was more balanced when Eboue came on, less balanced when Gallas went off. So credit to Denilson for putting in the performance needed. We needed someone calm and composed and keeping it simple. Those are exactly Denilson’s strengths, but strengths which disappeared for the Brum match. How many gooners bricked it when he had to come on? He had no real form to speak of, yet there he was, holding the fort while dad’s in the sick house. Eboue wasn’t that effective, but he had energy and commitment. He ran and ran and ran and could still run when it was 90 minutes, always there for a pass. Boy, did we need that.

Diaby on the other hand was shown up. Diaby's game is a high risk game. He doesn't kill the ball with his instep, but with his studs, allowing him to turn in one orgasmic fluid movement but also allowing better opponents to start an attack faster when he is dispossessed and made to look like a mug. He deliberately takes the risk of running at 2-3 defenders at once because he forces them to decide who to commit and thus increase his chance of releasing another player. It didn't work. He is a risk to take into Nou Camp because that aspect of his game isn't going to change and he is not able to grow his hair on time to make him look less mug-like, let alone develop it into a full-froing fro.

Nik + Theo can be really good at Nou Camp
Nik Bendy had a good game. I am not sure why there was so much invective thrown at him for this match. Was it because of the off-side goal that wasn’t scored ? (the ball hit Piquet’s arm after it hit the post). Was it because he was at fault for being off-side? (He’d already come on-side twice before the cross). Was it because the ‘free’ header he was ‘given’ he sent too close to the keeper? (He was responsible for some of the build-up leading to it and it was no free header, he was flying in to get to it and had not much choice except to power it. Great save). Watch a replay of the second half and see what Nik does when he receives a throw-in under pressure. It’s great stuff. The header to Cesc prior to the peno needs no further analysis.

Theo is destructive when he cuts into the middle of the box, either with the ball or without it. The good ol’ run down to the touchline doesn’t cut it against a team so quick to compact their box as you still end up having too much to do. The first time Theo cuts in after a super pass from Bendy he scores. He does it again later on (at 2-2) and unfortunately had to square it to a crocked Fabregas.

The pair are also different to anything else Barca can offer. Bendy is not just Ibra-Lite, nor is Theo Messi-lite. They are different players who have yet to reach their potential but have it in them to make the difference.

Pep knew we’d be strong in the final 15 minutes
But he couldn’t do much about it. This is where strategy trumped tactics. Not many teams can press for 90 minutes. Some can, Barca apparently isn’t one of them. Barca’s pressing game allowed them to dominate the first quarter but knackered them for the last. Early in the second half when Arsenal played better, every time an Arsenal player gets the ball he’s immediately surrounded. Later on in the half, every time the same thing happens there’s 3 Barca players in front but nobody but Arsenal players behind. To some extent this was because of Theo’s impact, but to be sure the legs had gone out of Barca and they had to commit defence earlier than necessary whenever we got the ball into their half.
This is ultimately the key to victory in Barca. Keep our shape for the first 30 minutes (yes, easier said than done), pressure them in the last 15minutes for each half. If Theo starts, build up play on the left through Nasri and Clichy, then switch quickly to the right. Play smart. Turn it into David v Goliath rather than Mini-Goliath v Goliath.


Established Member
Excellent write-up. I agree with so much of what you said, particulary about how certain individual players performed.

What are your thoughts on the second leg? How would you set-up to counter Barca and make ourselves more affective?


Established Member
There's a lot to consider for the reverse fixture. I've already said what we should aim to do, but how we go about doing it is very difficult because of:
a) Injuries to key players
b) (What I believe to be) Lack of tactical nous

First we must be able to contain them for the initial barrage. This means Denilson must start. He's actually coming into form now, isn’t injured and is the type of player who can judge where play is going- very important to counteract at least some of the passing. He needs to do what he does best by keeping it simple and not try anything too smart like what happened against United. He does not have the pace to stop a counter, and shouldn't cause one himself.

The other thing we have to do to contain them is to ensure our counters stick. We can afford to lose the ball on the deep flanks, we can’t afford to do it in the middle, the way we did in the first leg. The focus of our play must be on the flanks and not the middle. Screw Messi, their most important player by far is Xavi. We can’t afford him time on the ball, we can’t afford to lose the ball to Sgt. Biscuits and have him lay it off to Xavi from where they have a billion options in midfield because he knows where to find them.

Since we will focus on the flanks, there are a few issues to iron out:

Do we start Theo or Eboue at right?
Theo does not hold the ball, but does bring it further up the flank. Eboue has the tendency to cut in far too early, but holds onto the ball a lot better. He’s also a better tackler than Theo.
There are accusations that Theo can’t last 90 minutes. I disagree. Against Wolves what happened was once the lads saw Theo was mincing their left back, they passed the ball to him every single time. Our left flank was unproductive because Eboue of all people was playing there. By the second half Wolves had it figured out.
It is actually fairly easy to counteract Theo if you’ve organized your defence to do it. His footwork is not as bad as people make it out to be since he is actually fairly two-footed, but he’s no great dribbler. They just double up on him and force him wide, or force him inside onto a centre midfielder.
We must build on this fact if we play Theo early. Build on the left, switch right, build on the right occasionally. That forces them to think about committing two defenders to an underused Theo. If they still commit, our left-sided attacks are stronger. If they don’t then Theo becomes that much more dangerous. This unfortunately requires a certain degree of tactical awareness that I somehow feel our lads are incapable of. The safe option is Eboue.

Do we start Nasri left forward or CM?
An even harder decision at first glance but actually very simple to me. We need to make sure our counters stick. Nasri holds the ball well, takes shots, is no slouch and has enough pace and wizardry to unlock defences. He must start left. Yes, he can be relied upon to replace Cesc, but we can’t focus our attacks mid, it has to be from the flanks. There’s also another reason: of all our midfield players, Nasri is the most easily turned. Of course, we might not have the option to play Nasri wide if we run out of midfielders to play (i.e. Song as CB, Rosicky injured). In that case, start Theo left.

Does Sol start if fit? Song or Tweety if he isn’t?
Yes. Even though he does not have the pace, his vision and presence will be useful. Remember we got hit by two goals due to bad positioning against long balls. We’ll get burnt by that every time if our positioning remains poor. Most importantly, if there’s a player to give the lads an arse-kicking if their heads are down, it’s Sol.
If he isn’t fit, we have to make do with Song or Tweety. I don’t think the latter has enough in him, I don’t think he ever did, so Song it is, despite that being sub-optimal. We have no other choice. Song is not a bad recovery player.

Do we start Diaby?
Like I said, Diaby is a high-risk player. Playing him defensively is madness against Barca, especially if his head drops like it did last week. OTOH, if you watch our two goals against Barca you’ll see that Diaby did contribute towards them. What Diaby can do for this match is to defend from the top, cutting off those lay-offs by Sgt. Biscuits or hassling Xavi. He must be as disciplined as possible for this match, not too big an ask as long as he’s committed. He also provides an aerial threat even though he’s not the greatest headers of the ball. So my controversial tactical decision here would be to start Diaby in Cesc’s position. That leaves the other midfield player to be Song or Rosicky.

So I’ve got this as my starting line-up:


Theo on at the hour mark if we’re chasing the game.
Rosicky on playing in Song’s position if Sol is crocked / knackered, Song as CB.

Of course, it needn’t be said that it’s all a big ask of the players and they need to play their hearts out. Barca are technically and tactically superior and we have to count on our athleticism to win us this game.

A 'daring alternative' if we've run out of CM's:

…Rozza/Nasri/Diaby (strike out the crocked guy)

Be prepared with that one though, we might get ripped a new one! Then we'd be called ArseArsenal.


New Member
Can somebody please explain the logic in fielding a weakened team to start a match going two nil down and then bringing on the big guns with 30 minutes to go, why not VICA VERSA, and Arsen is not the only boss to use this idea, we are all aware (if we are honest) that the Barca game is a non starter, last nights game against Watford was far more important.

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