The Alternative Turning Point
This blog isn’t anti-Arsenal, it really isn’t. I’m not looking to steal thunder on an amazing comeback. I enjoyed the game, the goals, and am thoroughly glad Arsenal are taking a result to the Nou Camp because a) I said before the game I thought you could b) I put some of my money where my mouth was and had Arsenal in a cheeky treble and c) I really want another great game in the second leg. But, as brilliant as the comeback was, I think Barcelona engineered their own downfall….here’s why.
Guardiola had a howler. Not often I’ll say that. You might think it’s a bonkers thing to say considering the team that he has, playing the football that they do. But when you’ve got a team as good as Barcelona, with all the wonderful, majestic players that they do, playing football with the style and effectiveness that they manage, then it makes it look kind of easy. That does Guardiola a disservice. His deployment of Eto’o on the right hand side and Messi down the middle against Manchester United in the Champions League final was a work of genius, completely negating all of United’s preparations.
However, I think tonight he made an absolute howler. 0-1 up against Arsenal at the Emirates in the first leg of their knockout game they were looking not just comfortable but dangerous. Arsenal’s tempo was better second half than they had managed for most of the first but Barcelona still didn’t look particularly uncomfortable and were creating plenty of chances and causing plenty of problems on the counter attack. So, with that in mind, and Arsenal taking off Alex Song and bringing on Andrei Arshavin he makes a counter substitution. 68th minute, carrying no injury, David Villa comes off and in his place comes Keita. Now I’m not a massive fan of Keita, he’s an ok player, but most certainly a squad player at best for Barcelona, and that’s fine, because throughout the season you need those kinds of players. But it definitely sends a message to Arsenal. It says “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. David Villa up front, Messi and Pedro wide of him and Xavi, Iniesta and Dani Alves looking to burst forward and Arsenal have all kinds of headaches. No real centre forward, a lack of attacking shape and one of the best strikers on the planet sat on the bench with his feet up and suddenly Arsenal can afford to go for it.
They did, they really did go for it. Plenty of match reports and blogs will comment on the way that Arsenal came back. Take nothing away from them, they took their chances well and they got a great result from a game that at times they looked dead and buried performance wise even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. But the thing with Arsenal is they’ve dominated teams and lost so many times that I guess they know exactly what can happen when you don’t finish a team off. They smelt a chance against Barcelona and they went for it. Would they have had that chance if Villa had stayed on? Quite possibly, but I really do think he’d have continued to cause Arsenal far more problems. Pedro looks a fantastic player when he’s wide of Villa and being played in by Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, but when he’s foraging around up front on his own he looked like a little lost boy. This was against the same defenders who a few minutes earlier were struggling to keep up with him.
Psychology is a massive thing in football. Just look at strikers who are in form, they know they are going to score ergo they do. Strikers who are out of form have a heavy touch, they need longer on the ball to get a shot away, and defenders close them down quicker. That’s why somehow at the moment Leon Best is looking a shade more deadly than Fernando Torres. When a team takes one of their best strikers off it can give the opposition a massive lift. Just as a lower league team stepping out in the FA Cup may feel they’ve really got a chance if they see all of Premiership team’s big guns rested. The younger players at a club, the reserves, they may be better than the players on the lower league team, but the lower league guys will have gained a massive, massive boost from seeing that they don’t have to play the likes of Rooney, or Fabregas to name but two. That lift can give you an edge you might not have had. Seeing Villa go off, seeing Barcelona lose their way on the counter attack, it gave Arsenal the belief that they could surge forward, commit more players and do more damage. Before Villa departed Nasri had played most of the second half as a left back. Afterwards he was storming up the pitch setting up the winner.
Arsenal deserve full credit for taking their chances, and Barcelona deserve credit too for the way that they moved the ball for the first 70 minutes. But just as Arsene Wenger and his team would get slated if they let a team do that to them after such dominance, Guardiola and his team deserve some harsh looks too. This result does not make them a poor team, far from it. But they now have to work a lot harder in the Nou Camp than they might have done, because of a lack of killer touch, some good goalkeeping from Szczesny, poor goalkeeping from Valdes and in my opinion, one very, very poor substitution.
If you agree, or disagree you can comment here or get me on Twitter @elhaydo