Arsenal 2 Barca 1: Same Style, Different Class

As Arsene Wenger said, this is a different Arsenal team from the one Barcelona encountered a year ago. Different in the way they defiantly fought their way back into this extraordinary Champions League tie, and different in the level of determination they displayed.

When David Villa struck the first blow after 26 minutes, Arsenal appeared dead in the water. How could they come back against the finest football team on the planet? The finest we may have ever seen? Because for more than an hour against the classy Catalans, the best Arsenal could produce simply wasn’t good enough. It was second best to the team even Wenger considers the finest around.

Then, however, came the most remarkable of fightbacks. First a 78th-minute equaliser from Robin van Persie then an unlikely winner from Andrey Arshavin. It was incredible - a goal that suddenly gives Arsenal a fighting chance at the Nou Camp. And their situation was improved further by the fact that Pep Guardiola will probably have to prepare without his two first-choice centre-halves. While Carles Puyol is struggling with injury, Gerard Pique is now suspended after picking up a yellow card last night.

Make no mistake. Until their concentration lapsed in the latter stages and they allowed Arsenal to strike back, Barcelona were brilliant at The Emirates. But this also amounted to one of the finest displays from an Arsenal side. Jack Wilshere was magnificent, and so too were Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas. If Wenger has any regrets, it will be the opportunities Van Persie squandered in the first half

He did make amends with the equaliser, though his goal also owed much to Victor Valdes anticipating a cross from the Dutchman and then seeing the ball fly inside his near post when Van Persie instead shot from a sharp angle. Five minutes later, The Emirates was in ecstasy when a sweeping move saw Samir Nasri break down the right and cross for Arshavin, a 68th-minute substitute, to finish.

How unlikely the finale had seemed in the game’s opening phases. More than two minutes had elapsed before Arsenal even got an opportunity to pass the ball, such was the ominous manner in which Barcelona started. It's a timely reminder for Barcelona that results are not guaranteed, they need to earn it.

To Arsenal’s credit, they continued to battle, kept creating, kept hoping, and thanks to the late heroics of Van Persie and Arshavin, they can visit the lair of the greatest team in the world with something approaching hope.



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