LA PRENSA MUNDIAL SE RINDE AL BARÇA 8
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1:
Visiting defenders such as Thomas Vermaelen went through miseries but everyone in Messi’s path was in danger of anguish. Messi did not even sink entirely into a tactful ineffectiveness in the second half. A fourth goal after 88 minutes came after he had run from the centre towards the left and, when Manuel Almunia stopped the first effort, the next went through the goalkeeper’s legs.
This had seemed an awkward situation for Barcelona, with the team not quite establishing its rhythm initially and then falling behind to a Nicklas Bendtner goal. With Arsenal in front there might have been panic in the ranks of the opposition but Pep Guardiola has in his already excellent team an unanswerable individual.
Messi had completed a hat-trick by half-time, showing a finesse that ensured there could be terrible consequences of any mistake or ill-luck for the visitors. The Argentinian levelled after the ball had broken back to him off Mikael Silvestre in the 21st minute. Following a run by Eric Abidal, the ball broke from Vermaelen and Seydou Keita set him up to score once more. Three minutes from half-time a Keita header put possession behind a suffering Vermaelen. The chip with which Messi took his third would have felt arrogant had it not been so exquisite.
If it had somehow been feasible to annul Messi’s impact, this would have been a lively contest. Daunting though Barcelona are, there was at first no obvious repeat of the intimidating superiority exercised at the Emirates. Arsenal were even to savour the opener, although they were soon disconsolate.
It is hard work to imagine Arsene Wenger being obsessed with defending when the whole tenor of his ambition concerns fluent attacking. All the same nobody comes to Camp Nou without wariness. The Arsenal manager had to reflect on his back four at length because of the devastation Barcelona are accustomed to wreaking.
Just as in the first leg, Wenger named Sol Campbell as a substitute. A calf strain sustained against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend could be offered as an explanation but the veteran was in good enough condition to sit on the bench. Most likely, Wenger craved whatever mobility he could find and preferred Silvestre in the starting line-up.
Both the Barcelona centre-backs at the Emirates were suspended, yet the back four was enhanced in some senses. Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol may have been excluded but the pairing of Rafael Marquez and Milito was fashioned out of experienced campaigners.
Nonetheless Arsenal did go in front, even if the move seemed to involve an unpenalised foul by Abou Diaby on Milito. Walcott raced behind the defence and, although Bendtner’s initial attempt was saved by the goalkeeper, he converted the rebound.
Little of what ensued could be savoured by Arsenal. Guardiola had in mind the task of retaining all the trophies over the next month or two. Absurd as it felt in this context, Arsenal, too, had a prize to consider. Their ambitions in regard to the Premier League are not at an end, even if the likelihood is that the period without a trophy that began after the 2005 FA Cup will not end in this campaign.
BARCELONA: Valdes, Dani Alves, Marquez, Milito, Abidal (Maxwell 53), Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Pedro (Iniesta 86), Bojan (Toure Yaya 55), Messi. Subs not used: Pinto, Henry, Fontas, Jeffren.
ARSENAL: Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Silvestre (Eboue 63), Clichy, Denilson, Diaby, Walcott, Nasri, Rosicky (Eduardo 73), Bendtner. Subs not used: Fabianski, Traore, Campbell, Merida, Eastmond. Booked: Denilson, Rosicky, Eboue.