Barça confident Wenger's refusal 'to park bus' will see Arsenal crash out

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Barcelona were still confident last night of a second-leg comeback against Arsenal in the Champions League because they believe Arsène Wenger will not be able to copy Jose Mourinho's ultra-defensive tactics in the Nou Camp next month.

Barça went out of the competition at the semi-finals stage last season having lost the first leg away to Internazionale 3-1. Then the Inter coach, Mourinho said: "We did not park the bus, we parked the plane," after seeing his side defend for 90 minutes in the second leg to go through following a 1-0 defeat.

Wenger's natural attacking instincts are now seen as Barça's biggest ally and last night Barcelona players were consoling themselves by reflecting on the amount of chances they were allowed at the Emirates before Arsenal's comeback.

Midfielder Xavi said: "We had infinite opportunities to kill off the tie; we didn't take them and we ended up paying but there are 90 minutes left and I am still optimistic. I'd like to think that we are still favourites with the second leg to come at home and in front of our supporters."

Lionel Messi will need to find the goalscoring touch that deserted him in London. The Argentine has now failed to score in seven games on English soil for Barcelona. "Jinxed" was the one-word verdict on the Argentine after he made it 626 minutes without a goal in England.

Messi does have happy memories of last year's home-leg against Arsenal however when he scored all Barcelona's goals in a 4-1 win. The Spanish Champions have scored 103 goals so far this season but could have far bigger problems at the other end of the pitch with Gerard Pique's suspension ruling him out of the second leg and putting more pressure on captain Carles Puyol to return quickly from injury.

In 40 games this season Barcelona have only lost four times and Puyol has been missing in each of the defeats. He has been out with a tendinitis problem in his left knee for three weeks but was due to return for this Sunday's home game against Athletic Bilbao. Barcelona have no defensive cover and coach Guardiola would be forced to pair Gabriel Milito with Eric Abidal if the 32-year-old Puyol does not return on time.

His La Liga return could now be delayed to ensure he can face Robin van Persie and company in the Champions League, sparing Guardiola the necessity to call on Milito who has struggled for form and fitness this season.

Despite the optimism in Spain over the second leg, there was still an inquest over Barcelona's second-half capitulation with special attention paid to England starlet Jack Wilshere's second-half domination of Xavi.

Barcelona paper El Mundo Deportivo eulogised: "Wilshere confirmed all the good things that have been said about him in the last few months. The great hope of English football looked like the complete midfielder. He started the game as a holding player and in the second half played further forward in the style of Xavi who was not comfortable at the Emirates and whose experience could not save Barça from a nervous end to the game."

Nicola Rizzoli was the other protagonist of the enquiry into why Barcelona had thrown away a lead at the Emirates for the second year running. The match official known as "Mourinho's friend"' was accused of denying Barcelona a penalty as well as wrongly ruling out Messi's first-half goal.

Rizzoli mistakenly gave Inter a penalty in 2009 that enabled Mourinho's team to draw 3-3 with Roma. He was demoted to Serie B for the mistake and his past misdemeanors were not forgotten as replays showed Messi onside when he headed over the line in the first half.

Barcelona now play four games in the 19 days leading up to the return. After Sunday's home game they travel to Mallorca and Valencia followed by a home fixture against strugglers Zaragoza on the Saturday before their most important 90 minutes of the season so far.

What the Spanish papers said...

Cesc's Arsenal breaks Barcelona

Marca praised the counter-attacking threat that Arsenal posed throughout the game. However, it did describe Robin van Persie's goal as a "fatal error" by goalkeeper Victor Valdes. also conducted a 40,000-strong survey which pinpointed the failings of Lionel Messi, Maxwell and Pedro in Barça's defeat, but praised the performance of Eric Abidal, who played out of position at centre-back.


Mundo Deportivo criticised Barcelona's "forgiveness" in front of goal and their failure to kill off the game. They also questioned manager Pep Guardiola's change in formation following David Villa's substitution in the 67th minute: 16 minutes later Andrei Arshavin added Arsenal's second to complete an unlikely turnaround.

A 'good fit'

AS described Barcelona as becoming "too enchanted by their own football" and argued that Barça's first hour of dominance at the Emirates only helped to spur Arsenal on: "A wounded Englishman is very dangerous. And if he knows how to play on the counter, even more so. And it turned out that power, in the end, overcame technique."

However, the Madrid paper led with Emmanuel Adebayor saying Cesc Fabregas would be "a good fit" at Real Madrid.

The Camp Nou comeback

Sport backed a Barça win in the return leg after refereeing decisions went against them at the Emirates. Messi had a goal "unfairly disallowed" and there was no penalty awarded for a "foul" on Pedro.

And the rest...

El Pais

"Last night Arsenal fought like champions. They didn't give up even when the night looked at its bleakest."

"Arsenal have definitively shed their respect for Barcelona, who yesterday were more functional, less ambitious or, at the least, more vulnerable and less punishing."

El Mundo

"Arsenal won deservedly, thanks to their noble resistance and the drive of Wilshere."

The idea that La Liga is the best league in the world "fell apart in a single trip to London."

Michael Butler