Messi's inspired contribution – five areas where game was won and lost
Wednesday 09 March 2011
1. In a Barça shirt Lionel Messi always delivers
Lionel Messi now has more goals than any other player in European football for Barcelona, overtaking Rivaldo. The range of his 45 goals in all competitions this season has been extraordinary and his strike at the death of the first half was unlike any of his previous goals. The run was perfectly timed, the ball neatly flipped over the goalkeeper agile and the spring and volley to score was sublime. The debate over his international displays and his struggles to lead Argentina the way Diego Maradona did will continue but his record in a Barcelona shirt is nothing short of astonishing.
2. Arsenal's goalkeeping curse continues... but some things happen for the best
If it is not errors then it's injuries or red cards in big games. When Wojciech Szczesny saved a Dani Alves free-kick on 16 minutes he knew immediately that his night's work was over, kicking the ball out of play and calling for treatment. Just as in Paris in 2006 when Jens Lehmann was sent off, Manuel Almunia was the substitute. He had already conceded 13 goals in four games against Barcelona and he was helpless when Messi looped Andrés Iniesta's pass over him before volleying it home. It could have been worse had the clearance he drove into the back of Laurent Koscielny not been cleared by Jack Wilshere. In the second half he more than played his part as Arsenal kept Barça at bay with a string of superb saves.
3. Van Persie was not the ace up Arsène's sleeve
Barcelona fans had celebrated the news that Robin van Persie would miss the second-leg as if it were a goal start; hearts sank when the team list appeared on the two screens at either end of the Nou Camp last night and Arsenal's number 10 was among the 11 starters. "We had bad news on the scan and he will be out for the next three weeks for sure. He is definitely out for Barcelona," the Arsenal manager had said before the Carling Cup final. But – be it bluff or medical miracle – although his presence on the pitch landed a psychological blow for the Gunners, he struggled with little service in the first half and Eric Abidal and Sergio Busquets in close attendance. In the second half his decision to play on after the referee's whistle had been blown for offside earned him a harsh second yellow card that gave Barcelona 35 minutes to get at Arsenal with a man spare.
4. Barcelona DID miss Puyol and Pique
They were absent last year and Barcelona still won so surely it would not matter that the two pillars of Barça's defence were both absent again? One year ago Gabriel Milito was still in his prime for the Catalans and stepped in to bridge the gap. This year the injury-plagued Argentine was not risked and Pep Guardiola decided to play midfielder Sergio Busquets in the centre of his back four. Busquets it was who completely misjudged Samir Nasri's corner and sent it past Victor Valdes to give Arsenal their equaliser.
5. Wilshere is more than man enough for the big games
Fabio Capello was among the 99,000 in the Nou Camp last night and although there was only one Englishman on the pitch, the performance put in by Jack Wilshere will have more than pleased the England manager. It's not Guardiola's style to rile the opposition in the run-up to a game but when he tempered his praise of Wilshere ahead of the game by saying Barcelona had several players like him in their B-team it was like a one-man team-talk for the Arsenal youngster.
He made several crucial interceptions early on as Barça tried to pass their way through Arsenal's rearguard. And when Almunia's clearance hit Koscielny's back he was on hand to scramble away the danger. He never shied away from the physical battle with Javier Mascherano. He was clattered into by the former Liverpool man and the mêlée that followed and the deafening whistles as he hobbled off showed how the little man had got underneath the Spanish Champions' skin.
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