We weren’t exactly confident heading into the game, but the way we started things off gave us a real boost. We appeared to have our tactics perfectly set up to deal with Barcelona, and suddenly things were looking up a little.
We had the perfect balance between sitting off them and defending deep, then switching to a high pressing game to force them to give up possession. It was Barcelona we were playing though, so obviously one mistake would prove costly.
Nacho Monreal was incredibly unlucky to get a booking early on, with the Spaniard slipping and falling into Ivan Rakitic. It was very clearly accidental, but the referee still produced the yellow.
We created a great chance shortly after, with Aaron Ramsey playing a great one-two with Mesut Özil. Unfortunately his rather tame left-footed shot was easily blocked and the chance went begging.
Barcelona were predictably enjoying most of the possession, but we were the ones creating the better chances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain really should have scored after a bit of pinball in the area, but as so often with the England international he showed a complete lack of composure and scuffed a poor shot straight at Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
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The Ox was balancing his defensive and offensive duties well, but his lack of end product was once again a problem. A great counter attack put us three vs two, but the winger took one touch too many instead of crossing for Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil, colliding awkwardly with Javier Mascherano. He soldiered on until the end of the half, but soon after the break he was subbed off for Theo Walcott.
An injured Ox obviously struggled to track back, and just before he came off Neymar was able to race down our right flank. Barcelona could have been ahead had he squared it to Lionel Messi for a tap-in, but he opted to shoot and saw it saved by Petr Cech.
Barcelona players had been throwing themselves to the ground all evening, making a meal of every challenge and looking to influence the ref. There was controversy when Jordi Alba went to ground, with the Spaniard rolling around in pain after claiming Olivier Giroud had assaulted him. There was little to no contact though, and when the referee didn’t buy it Alba quickly jumped to his feet and got in Giroud’s face. He squared up to the Frenchman and did that old ‘football headbutt’, but despite many players seeing red for it in the past, the referee did absolutely nothing about it.
Giroud had a couple of great chances shortly after, first with a difficult header well saved by Ter Stegen. He then could have set up one of his teammates after piling pressure on Gerard Pique and anticipating a poor clearance superbly, but some miscommunication with Walcott and the French forward trying to be a little too clever saw the ball run out for a goal kick.
Our misses proved costly, and after not really threatening much for most of the game, Lionel Messi made it 1-0.
A string of mistakes saw us hit on the counter, with Barca going from a clearance to a goal in a matter of seconds. Per Mertesacker was the first to really mess up, pushing up well past the half-way line but not actually applying any pressure. He allowed Luis Suarez to turn and play Neymar in, and from then on we were in real trouble.
The pass took Laurent Koscielny out of the game too, with Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin two-on-two with Neymar and Messi. The experienced Spaniard probably should have stayed with Messi, but instead he opted to join Bellerin applying pressure on Neymar, and the Brazilian was able to squeeze a pass square to Messi for arguably the world’s greatest player to chip over Petr Cech. 1-0.
We almost went 2-0 down immediately after, with Suarez denied by the post when he looked certain to score.
There was another chance for us to score, with substitute Danny Welbeck nodding down for Aaron Ramsey, but the Welshman couldn’t get any real purchase on his volley and it was easily saved by Ter Stegen.
Then came Mathieu Flamini… who within a matter of seconds of coming onto the pitch essentially ended the Champions League last 16 tie. Arsenal fans let out a collective grown when the Frenchman replaced his compatriot Coquelin, and there were real fears he just wouldn’t be up to the challenge. Those fears were soon realised, and his first action was to hack down Messi in the box and give away a penalty. It was largely Mertesacker’s fault for attempting to pass the ball in the box rather than just clearing it, but there was still no excuse. Messi tucked away his second of the night. 2-0.
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Conceding two away goals is likely to prove too much for us, and while 1-0 would have arguably been acceptable, we really look stuffed now. The loss is made more disappointing by the way in which we conceded, and had we taken any one of our several chances things could have been very, very different. But at least we can forget about the Champions League for a while and turn our attention back to the Premier League!