Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona — ‘Best team in the world’ stunned by Gunners
Arsenal pulled off a remarkable comeback after falling behind to a David Villa opener as goals from Robin van Persie and substitute Andrey Arshavin helped the Gunners to a first leg win.
Pep Guardiola’s side dominated possession with wonderful passing, working tirelessly to press the home side in their short spells on the ball, and deservedly led through a David Villa goal after 26 minutes.
They could have had three or four more but Arsenal levelled after controlling most of the second half through Robin van Persie in the 78th minute.
The game got even sweet for the Gunners seven minutes from time when substitute Andrey Arshavin swept in the second after a superb counter-attack.
Eboue – Djourou – Koscielny – Clichy
Fabregas – Song – Wilshere
Walcott – van Persie – Nasri
Arsenal got off to a scintillating start within the first 15 minutes of the tie with a half-volley from van Persie after just five minutes forced a stellar save from Victor Valdes. Surprisingly for both sides, in the opening stages of the tie many passes went astray, as both teams instead lost possession and faced storming counter attacks from either end.
The first gasp-inducing moment of the night came from a stunning miss from Leo Messi. The Argentine was released by David Villa and clipped the ball over Szczesny from a one-on-one situation, only to watch the ball sail inches wide from five yards.
Barca opened the scoring straight after a piercing Arsenal counter attack from Theo Walcott was snuffed out. Messi released a weighted pass behind the Arsenal defence, Gael Clichy played David Villa onside and the Spanish star didn’t miss from inside the box.
For the remainder of the first half Barcelona began to settle into their lead, forcing the Gunners to chase shadows for large periods around the half-hour mark. Barca’s dominance was nearly rewarded after a Villa shot was stopped by Szczesny, before Messi bundled in a header and was judged to be offside.
To Arsenal’s credit, the side began to battle back in the dying minutes of the first half, owed mainly to respective brilliant ball retention and sprints from Arsenal’s young English duo of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, though Robin van Persie’s shooting was uncharacteristically sloppy.
With just over 20 minutes left on the clock, both sides made substitutions, as Andrey Arshavin replaced the Alex Song, who had received a yellow card at the beginning of the tie and defensive midfielder Seydou Keita replaced goalscorer Villa.
In the 78th minute Arsenal’s perseverance was finally rewarded through a Robin van Persie equaliser, after the in-form Dutchman struck a volley from a tight angle along the left-hand side, exposing an awful positional blunder by Victor Valdes, who could only watch a revived and attack-minded Gunners took the tie into the last ten minutes.
With seven minutes to go the Emirates Stadium erupted. Samir Nasri tormented Barcelona down the line and squared the ball across to substitute Arshavin, who couldn’t miss from 15 yards. Suddenly the Catalans were rattled as wave after wave of Gunners attacks edged closer to providing a comfortable two goal cushion for the second leg.
In the final seconds of a riotous 90 minutes of football Barcelona almost levelled the game, following a mistimed defensive header from Arshavin which led substitute Adriano to force a parry from the tremendous Szczesny. Bringing a lead many thought impossible to the Camp Nou, Arsene Wenger’s side confounded the expectations of numerous pundits and came of age, while Barca manager Pep Guardiola was punished severely for taking his foot off the pedal through bringing off his frontman Villa.
“It is one of those special nights. It was a great game that did not disappoint,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
“When you play Barcelona you are always on the border of collapsing but we showed great resilience. It’s open now, we will go there and play our game because you can’t go to the Nou Camp and just defend.”