It was probably the most anticipated game of the ‘Round of 16′ in UEFA Champions League 2011. The mighty Barcelona, who are sitting pretty at the top of the La Liga table 5 points clear from the rivals Real Madrid, were facing Arsenal who are having a dream run of their own in the EPL. One would have thought that the star-studded Spanish side has the upper-hand and of course they were favorites going into the match. But what made things even was the fact that it was Gunners’ home game. Indeed an awesome set-up for an enthralling encounter!
After a relatively quiter first 5 minutes, first real attack came along Arsenal’s way. Theo Walcott dribbled around 3 defenders just outside the box to pass it to Fabregas whose swift chip found Van Persie within yards of the goalpost. A timely powerpacked shot from him was brilliantly pushed off by the goalie.
In the 15th minute, it was a genuine spark of brilliance from Barca. A precise through ball sent by David Villa found the jet-speed Messi who failed to put the ball into the net with only the goalkeeper to beat! The ball went 3-ft wide of the far post following his chip over the goalkeeper.
In the 23rd minute of the game, the ball was again with mesmerizing Messi who made his way into the core defensive area of Arsenal but his shot on the goal was feeble and found the goalie.
At the mark of 25th minute, Theo Walcott had a brilliant run on the right flank to cross in the speeding ball but was timely headed out by Eric Abidal.
It was the Spanish team, however, to break the deadlock. A brilliant through ball by Iniesta found the golden feet of David Villa who had fooled the off-side trap and zoomed past in to take the ground shot before the goalie could find his hands on the ball.
A couple of minutes later, van Persie’s attempted shot went past a few feet off the vertical bar.
38 minute into the game Messi magic continued when he single handedly breached the defence and passed it to Suarez who was declared off-side.
In the second half, Arsenal started pressing more and more up-front. However there was no change of game-plan by Barcelona who were equally offensive if not more. Meanwhile, in the 67th minute, another effort by Iniesta went unrewarded as Messi failed to put the ball into the net for the second time. This should have been game, set and match for the Spaniards. But, the drama was yet to unfold. In the 79th minute, a seemingly insipid chip from Clichy was worked out impressively by van Persie who cracked the ball into the net from a very acute angle.
4 minutes later, the table was turned upside down as a brilliant one-touch football found Nassiri on the right flank who passed it through 4 defenders to Arashvin. The next moment it was arsenal 2-1 Barcelona.
For the rest of the time Barca was trying hard to find the equalizer. In fact they came close to scoring at at least 3 occasions. But a tight and alert defense and brave goalkeeping saw the day off for Arsenal.
An amazing battle of football it was. The dramatic finish to the game makes a thrilling prelude to the reverse leg which will be played on the 8th of March. i am sure all the football hungry fans are eagerly waiting like me for the delicious dish!
Follow me up for the next report.