There is no doubt that Barcelona is the best club in the world at the moment with best players in Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, but the Spanish champions will have to pay for their luxurious display during the first leg of this year’s UEFA champions league.
With the growing defensive crisis at the Catalan club, Gerald Pique picked a yellow card and will miss return leg where as defender Carlos Puyol is still not close to full fitness.
Messi, who is Barca’s top marksman has been off-target during the past two games. He missed so many clear cut opportunities to finish off Sporting Gijon and he was as wasteful against Arsenal.
It was until the 78th minute at the Emirates Stadium when the two quick goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin inflicted a rare defeat on Barcelona.
Perhaps people need not to be too surprised, as Pep Guardiola’s record in European knockout competitions is weak. Barcelona has yet to win away from the Camp Nou in the cut throat knockout stage of the Champions League.
Barcelona failed to learn from their mistakes from 12 months ago when, for the second year in a row, they capitulated against Arsenal at the Emirates in the Champions League.
They left many soccer pundits amazed with their master class in the first half and not as dominant as last season.
But 20 minutes from the end, Guardiola’s artists started to waver and, just like it was last term, they left the door open for Arsenal to get back into the game and score twice. The only difference to last season is that the Blaugrana only managed to score once this time.
Complacency is without question the main reason why Barcelona surrendered a two-goal lead in north London last season in the quarter-final showdown. They took their foot off the gas and allowed an Arsenal side with a never say die spirit to punish them.
This is not to say that Barcelona suddenly got lazy. But it was clear to see that their passing was not as crisp and sharp, there was a distinct lack of urgency, and players were not closing down their opponents in numbers.
They looked to be having just a little bit too much fun with easy ball passing, even in front of their goal mouth.
Defensively, Barcelona left holes all over the place. Arshavin’s winner was a clinical finish, but the amount of time and space he was afforded to place his shot was criminal.
Barcelona were also given a taste of their own medicine when Robin van Persie equalized, after beating the offside trap to latch onto Gael Clichy’s through ball before smashing his shot in at the near post.
Dani Alves was nowhere to be seen after he failed to cleanly dispossess Arshavin, which led to Clichy pouncing on the loose ball. Xavi was nearest to the French left-back, but he did not close him down quickly enough.
Gerard Pique was a good three yards behind Van Persie when the Dutchman was about to pull the trigger.
In attack, Guardiola’s side did not create any clear cut chances in the second half, with Messi hitting the side of the net after being released by Iniesta down the left side of the box and this was the only meaningful threat.
The irony is that Barca’s possession football is supposed to wear down opponents. But it looked as though it was the Blaugrana who ran out of steam themselves on Wednesday night and it was Arsenal who outlasted them by fighting on until they got their goals.
Barcelona simply did not take their chances, while Arsenal did. Yet both teams had roughly the same amount of opportunities in front of goal.
The problem with Barcelona’s patient passing, possession football is that when they desperately need to score while the clock is ticking down, they lack the ability to be direct and just play the ball forward.