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Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's ARSELONA (UEFA Champion League)

Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1

ARSH BUT FLAIR ... Andrey Arshavin celebrates his wonder-goal with Nicklas Bendtner
ARSH BUT FLAIR ... Andrey Arshavin celebrates his wonder-goal with Nicklas Bendtner

WHAT a finish, what an unbelievable finish.

From one-down Arsenal stunned Barca with two goals in the last 12 minutes through Robin van Persie and sub Andrey Arshavin to take the roof off the Emirates.

It gave the other team from north London something to shout about after Spurs' heroics in the San Siro the previous evening when they beat AC Milan. 

It would not have sat well with Gunners fans if the Cockerels had finished the week doing all the crowing.

Maybe Arsene Wenger is right in his claim that this is a new Arsenal - growing in stature, more mature, mentally stronger.

Over the last few seasons boss Wenger has talked up his players only for them to let him down when it matters in the run-in for the big trophies.

This comeback could be the big turning point. Now they have to believe they have what it takes to finish the job in this Champions League last-16 clash.

The second leg will not be easy against World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and his pals.

The Gunners were shot full of holes in last year's quarter-final, losing 6-3 on aggregate, but they will have taken enormous confidence from this performance.

And in Jack Wilshere they have a teenage midfield star who will not be the least bit intimidated going into the lion's den.

England boss Fabio Capello said he wanted to see how Wilshere, 19, would cope against the formidable duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

He got his answer. Wilshere was immense and gives Arsenal an extra dimension, combining midfield bite and craft.

He has so much more to offer than the defensive role which Capello has earmarked for him.

Cesc Fabregas, the skipper courted for so long by Barca, was superb in the centre too and he will relish the trip to Catalonia which was denied him last season because he broke his leg.

Throw in the pace of Theo Walcott and the artistry of Samir Nasri and Barca have good reason to be afraid
Make no mistake, Arsenal really do have a chance of knocking out the team Wenger describes as "the best in the world".

This was a cracking game in which both sides played their full part.

There were times Arsenal just could not get the ball as Barca knocked it around for fun in the tightest of spaces.

But, when the home side broke, they did so incisively and you always fancied they could score.

Fabregas began with a majestic chipped ball through to Van Persie which the Dutchman caught firmly with his left foot but Victor Valdes saved at his near post.

However, on 15 minutes, Barca looked certain to go one up when David Villa slotted Messi through the middle and we awaited the inevitable.

Messi delayed his shot, waiting for Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny to go to ground then clipped it past him and, to mass astonishment, the ball bounced the wrong side of the post.

After Eric Abidal had got his head to Walcott's cross to prevent Van Persie nodding in, Barca did take the lead on 26 minutes.

Messi worked his magic, threading the ball through to Villa and the £35million man coolly tucked his shot into the corner.

Within a minute Pedro Rodriguez was prevented from doubling the lead by the excellent Szczesny and the signs were ominous. Arsenal should have drawn level when Wilshere laid it on a plate for Van Persie only for the striker to slice horribly off target.

The anguish on Wenger's face said it all.

Barca started playing triangles and Messi eventually headed in after Szczesny saved from Villa, but he was given offside when he looked onside. Relief round the Emirates.

Arsenal were not playing badly - Barca were just better.

But Wilshere was probing forward, always looking for that killer pass or trying to make room for himself.

He played a one-two just after half-time and took the return but shot straight at the keeper. Nasri, Arsenal's player of the season, started getting into the game a bit more after the break.

While the Frenchman was giving Barca something to worry about down the left, Walcott was still posing a threat on the opposite flank.

Gerard Pique was rattled and his foul on Fabregas earned a yellow card, putting him out of the second leg.

Messi then squandered a great chance to make it two when he was free on the left and shot into the side-netting.

He paid for that as Van Persie equalised on 78 minutes. Gael Clichy ran a ball down the channel and from the tightest of angles Van Persie crashed a left-foot shot between Valdes and his near post.

Shocking goalkeeping if you are a Barca fan - brilliant finishing if you are an Arsenal supporter.

It got even better five minutes later, when Fabregas fed Nasri.

The Frenchman hared down the right flank, then checked back before finding sub Arshavin 15 yards out.

Wenger had gambled by sending on the Russian for the more defensive Alex Song on 68 minutes.

There have been many times this season when an out-of-sorts Arshavin has squandered such chances, most notably at Leeds in the FA Cup when he sent his shot flying out of the ground.

But this time, Arshavin was composure itself as he struck his shot firm and low beyond Valdes and in to the right-hand side of the goal.

Advantage Arsenal. Can they do it? Yes they can.

 Source: The Sun


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