Saturday, 26 March 2011

Europe: Part 2 - Europa League Preview

As we stated last week, Real Talk Football takes a look at both draws of the European cup competitions, and previews the last eight teams left in each competition. Today we look at part 2 which features the Europa League draw.

The reason I suggest everyone keeps an eye on the Europa League this year, is quite frankly because it has been packed with free flowing entertaining football. Now with no clear favourites left in the competition, a surprise winner could be on the cards.

Europa League

The four ties in the quarter final draw are as follows

FC Porto v. Spartak Moscow

Tale of the tape

FC Porto finished 3rd in the Portuguese Liga at the end of the 2009/10 season, subsequently ascertaining automatic Europa League qualification. The 2003 UEFA Cup winners started their campaign with an unbeaten group stage, where they won 5 of 6 games and topped a group consisting of Besiktas, Rapid Wien and CSKA Sofia, with 16 points.

In the first knockout phase they overcame two tough games against Sevilla, with the match ending in a 2-2 draw, hence progressing on away goals. In the last 16, Porto beat the very tricky CSKA Moscow side both home and away to win 3-1 on aggregate, and set up a quarter final tie against another team from the Russian capital.

This Russian side made their way into the competition after finishing third behind Chelsea and Marseille in the Champion’s League group stage. The Moscow based side, who are managed by former Russian international Valeri Karpin, surpassed Swiss side FC Basle 4-3 on aggregate after two great games.

In the last 16 tie, they comfortably beat Dutch giants AFC Ajax 4-0 on aggregate to set up a tie against the blues and whites from Portugal.

Key Players

Aiden McGeady – A name which football fans in Britain may be loosely familiar with, the Irishman joined the Russian side from Scottish side Celtic, for £9.5 million. This transfer made him the most expensive export from the Scottish Premier League in history. He was named the second best right midfielder in the Russian Premier League for last season, and is a pivotal member of the Spartak side.

Falcao – the Colombian international has been in scintillating form this campaign, scoring 7 times in 9 appearances. The 25 year old joined Porto in 2009, and has since taken his totals to 36 goals in 44 appearances. He is a clinical striker, with an eye for goal, and has already shown this season, that he can be the difference maker.

Probable Line-ups

SL Benfica v. PSV

Tale of the tape

Benfica are another side to enter the Europa League after finishing 3rd in their respective Champions’s League group. Their group consisted of Schalke 04, Lyon and Hapoel Tel-Aviv. The Portuguese side beat German side VFB Stuttgart 4-1 over two legs in an enthralling pair of matches.

In the last 16 tie, Benfica overcame the tricky French side PSG 3-2 on aggregate with star performers Franco Jara and Oscar Cardozo causing all sorts of problems for their opponents.

Dutch side PSV finished 3rd in their domestic league last season, earning automatic Europa League qualification. They progressed through to the knockout stages of the tournament after topping their group with 14 points, ahead of opponents Metalist, Sampdoria and Debrecen.

They then went on and beat French league leaders Lille 5-3 on aggregate in a very open and attacking match, and then beat Scottish side Glasgow Rangers 1-0 over two legs in a match which was completely opposite to the win over Lille.

Key Players

Balázs Dzsudzsák – The left winger/attacker is the key man for PSV as his great performances for the Dutch side has seen him attract interest from some of Europe’s elite clubs. In the Europa League this season, he has 4 goals in 10 games, with 2 assists.

Fábio Coentrão – the tricky left back, who can also play further forward if needed, is one of the most promising left sided players in Europe. He impressed at the 2010 World Cup for Portugal, and has continued his great form this season. He has play all four matches in the Europa League this season, so keep an eye out for his skills, his pace and his excellent crossing ability.

Probable Line-ups

Villarreal v. FC Twente

Tale of the tape

The Yellow Submarine progress through to the knockout phase of the tournament after finishing top of Group D with 12 points, which consisted of opponents PAOK, Dinamo Zagreb and Club Brugge. Renowned for their great home form, the Spanish club lost two away matches in the group stages, and this is seen as their weakness. However Villarreal did beat two of the pre-tournaments favourites in Napoli (2-1 on aggregate) in the first stage, and then Bayern Leverkusen (5-3 on aggregate) in the last 16 stage, to subsequently progress to the Quarter-finals.

FC Twente boss Michel Preud'homme dubbed Villarreal "little Barcelona" after the draw was made, which is a huge compliment to Juan Carlos Garrido’s side. The Dutch champions entered the Europa League after finishing 3rd in their Champion’s League group, behind Tottenham and Inter Milan. They fought off valiant comebacks from both Rubin Kazan (0-2 win away, 2-2 draw at home, 4-2 win on aggregate) and pre-tournament favourites Zenit St. Petersburg 3-2 on aggregate, winning 3-0 away in a cold night in Russia.

Key Players

Luuk De Jong – A player we have mentioned on the blog before, and a striker who is a nuisance, and knows how to find the back of the net. He has made 4 appearances in the Europa League, and has scored 3 goals. He was hailed and credited for his brilliant performance against Zenit St. Petersburg.

Giuseppe Rossi – Another Real Talk Football favourite, the 24 year old is the Europa League’s top goalscorer with 8 goals in 10 appearances, with 2 assists. He has been exceptional this season, and his partnership up front with Nilmar, and his link up play with midfielders Borja and Santi Carzola have been the basis to their progression into the latter stages.

Probable Line-ups

Dynamo Kiev v. SC Braga

Tale of the tape

The Ukrainian side rewound the clock, and found some of that European form which was so impressive in the early 00’s. They finished top of their group with 11 points, in a tricky group with BATE, AZ and Sheriff.

Dynamo did however wait until the knockout stages before they really turned on the style, smashing Turkish side Besiktas 8-1 on aggregate. They then went on to knockout another one of the pre-tournament favourites; Manchester City 2-1 on aggregate and progressing into the Quarters.

SC Braga, the third and final Portuguese representatives are another one of the teams to enter through the finishing third in their respective Champion’s League group, they finished behind Shaktar Donetsk and Arsenal respectively. In the first knockout phase they overcame a 1-0 away first leg defeat to Lech Poznan to win 2-1 on aggregate. They then upset their second English side in Europe this season beating the three time UEFA Cup winners Liverpool 1-0 on aggregate.

Key Players

Alan – the Brazilian born attacking midfielder has scored 2 vital goals in the 4 appearances he’s made in this Europa League campaign. At 31 years old he’s a more experienced member of the squad, and scored in the resurgence over Lech, and the decisive winner over Liverpool.

Artem Milevskiy – the Ukrainian “playboy” has let his on the field performances do the talking this season, with 5 goals and 2 assists in 9 appearances this campaign. The 26 year old plays in the hole behind Andriy Shevchenko for this Kiev side, as he is a strong, versatile, fast and creative forward.

Probable Line-ups

Who do think will win the Europa League? Leave your comments below, if you don't have a log in, feel free to use the anonymous settings.

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Real Talk Football

Monday, 21 March 2011

Europe: Part 1 - Champions League Preview

Last Friday both the quarter-final draws were made for Europe’s elite club competitions, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

Real Talk Football takes a look at the draws of both competitions, and previews the last eight teams left in each competition. Today we start with part 1 which features the Champions League draw.

Champions League

The four ties in the quarter final draw are as follows:

Real Madrid v. Tottenham Hotspur

Tale of the tape

Tottenham’s European adventure saw them top Group A ahead of defending champions Inter Milan, Dutch champions FC Twente and German side Werder Bremen.

Spurs defeated seven time winners and European heavyweights AC Milan 1-0 over two legs in order to book their place in their first ever Champions League quarter final. With their full throttle attacking football, nobody has begrudged the North London side their spot in the last eight.

Serial big spenders Real Madrid have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in the last seven years. The Spanish giants are undefeated in their campaign so far, overcoming AC Milan, AFC Ajax and AJ Auxerre in the group stage.

With star man Cristiano Ronaldo and two times Champions League winner Jose Mourinho in charge, Madrid will feel they can go all the way this season.

Key Players

Karim Benzema – the French forward came under scrutiny in the first half of the season with his lacklustre performances in La Liga, however the 23 year olds form has vastly improved, and he’s been Real’s top goal scorer in the Champions League with 6 goals in 7 appearances.

While striker Gonzalo Higuain out for the season and Manu Adebayor breathing down his neck for a 1st team position, he needs to continue his rich vein of form.

Luka Modric – The Croatian playmaker has been instrumental in Tottenham’s campaign this season, and his link up play with wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, have been the key weapons in Spurs Champions League challenge.

Probable Line-ups

Chelsea v. Manchester United

Tale of the tape

The two English powerhouses have been ever-present competitors in the last six seasons in this competition, and contested the 2008 Champions League final.

Chelsea, who has struggled to regain the domestic titles this year, sees the Champions League as their main target this season. They topped Group F with 15 points, winning five matches while their solitary defeat came away to Olympique de Marseille. Chelsea beat Danish side FC Copenhagen comfortably 2-0 over two legs in the second round.

Manchester United haven’t been at their best this season, but have still managed to grind out results and maintain their stay at the top of the Premier League, reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and of course, reach the latter stages of the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side qualified top of their group, fending off competition from Bursaspor, Valencia and Glasgow Rangers.

In the second round, there 2-1 victory over Marseille was synonymous with many of their victories this season, a game where they had a lot of first team players missing, and still managed to grind out the result.

Key Players

Nemanja Vidic – The Serbian defender has been head and shoulders above the rest of the other centre backs in Europe, and has been the cornerstone of Manchester United’s solid defensive record, which has seen them only concede two goals in Europe this season.

Nicholas Anelka – the Frenchman has seven goals in his seven Champions League appearances this season, and has outshone fellow strikers Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres in Chelsea’s campaign.

Probable Line-ups

FC Barcelona v. Shaktar Donetsk

Tale of the tape

Shaktar Donetsk are favoured as the “Dark Horses” in this year’s competition, thanks to their immaculate home form (they are unbeaten at the Donbass Arena in almost two years, over 60 matches), as well as their array of talented imports such as attacking midfielders Douglas Costa and Willian, Striker Eduardo and Luiz Adriano, as well as established and experienced players including; Tomas Hubschmann, Razvan Rat, Darijo Srna and Dmytro Chygrynskiy.

They surpassed Roma comfortably 6-2 in the second round stage, beating the Italians both home and away. They recovered from a 5-1 thumping away to Arsenal to go on and win Group H ahead of the English side.

For Barcelona, progression into the latter stages is minimal of expectations for the Catalan club, and they progressed through as winners of Group D. On paper they were expected to dominate the group stage however it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Spanish giants as FC Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos all gave a great account of themselves.

In the second round, Barca overcame a first leg defeat by Arsenal to beat the Gunners 4-3 over two legs, in a fiery and intriguing contest.

Key Players

Xavi Hernandez – The Spaniard World Cup winner impressed with his sensational passing ability in the seven matches he’s played in. He is the heartbeat of the Barcelona side, while his experience and ball retention skills are valuable assets to the side.

Dmytro Chygrynskiy – the 24 year old is quite familiar with the Barcelona team having spent the 2009/10 season at the Camp Nou. He is a tall, no nonsense defender who was influential in both legs of the second round victory over Roma. His quality will be essential in dealing with Messi and co.

Probable Line-ups

FC Internazionale v. FC Schalke 04

Tale of the tape

Schalke have somewhat surpassed expectations by reaching the quarter finals, but with the experienced Raul and goal poacher Klass-Jan Huntelaar, plus an array of talented players, has helped the German side top a tough group that contained the likes of Lyon, SL Benfica and Hapoel Tel-Aviv. In the second round, they beat Spanish side Valencia in two competitive encounters, winning 4-2 on aggregate.

Defending champions Inter Milan reached the quarter finals by the skin of their teeth, after two fantastic matches against last year’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich. Only a late goal from Macedonian international Goran Pandev saw Leonardo’s team progress on away goals. During the group stage, they finished runners-up in Group A, behind Tottenham.

Key Players

Samuel Eto’o – The Cameroonian international has been in sensational form this season, returning to his favoured central striker role, after playing out of position for much of last year’s victorious Champions League challenge. This season, he is the joint top scorer in the competition with eight goals from eight games, with four assists.

Raúl – the legendary Real Madrid striker is the record highest goal scorer in Champions League history with 71 goals, if anyone can be the difference maker, he can. Despite being at the ripe old age of 33 he hasn’t missed a step on the European stage, and has chipped in with 3 goals in this campaign so far.

Probable Line-ups

All ties will be played on the 5/6th April, and the return legs played on 12/13th April

Who do you think will win the Champions League? Cast your vote on the right hand side and let us. Part 2 will be coming on Wednesday.

Real Talk Football

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Arsenal – Same Story, Different Season

Yes, Real Talk Football highlights yet another Arsenal related post, but over these past two weeks, the North London side have played in some career defining matches let alone season defining ones! They are the relevant topic at the moment, and unfortunately, it’s not in the manner most Arsenal fans had hoped for.

Arsenal last night tumbled out of the FA Cup, exiting their third cup competition in just 2 weeks, after Arsene Wenger was tactically outclassed by his old foe Sir Alex Ferguson, in a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United.

A goal from Brazilian full back Rafael, who was playing out of position in an unfamiliar right midfield role, as well as striker Wayne Rooney who doubled the lead (who evidently was scoring his 9th career goal against Arsenal) to help Manchester United to a well deserved win.

Some fans will try to claim solace in the fact that Goalkeeper and Dutch veteran Edwin Van Der Sar was voted Man of the man as Arsenal had a spell where they tested the 41 year old on a total of nine occasions. This however, would ultimately be clutching at straws, as the prospect of a domestic double is that which Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans would have craved, as just rewards for their stellar attacking performances this season.

Regrettably, the story was an all too familiar one for Arsenal fans. The North London side’s passing was superior to Manchester United’s, with a total of 88.4% passing success rate. They also had more attempts on goal, with 15 in total, and the away side even dominated possession, with 60% in total, yet they ended up on the losing side.

Manchester United on the other hand, played the perfect counter attacking game and are now unbeaten in their last eight meetings against Arsenal. The United formation allowed Wayne Rooney to drop into the midfield, and act as the outlet, as well as the link between the midfield and Javier Hernandez, who was playing as the sole striker.

Countless times Arsenal had the ball in the Manchester United final third, and lacked any sort of determination to get on the score sheet. They lacked the creativity of Cesc Fabregas, the pace of Theo Walcott, and dare I say it; the directness of Nicklas Bendtner.

Every time Samir Nasri, or Andrei Arshavin had the ball in the wide areas, they would ignore the overlapping fullbacks and play a ball square, while Manchester United simply pounced to break up possession and look for the direct ball into the channels, and up the pitch. With Arsenal’s shaky defence, United always looked the more likely to capitalize on their chances.

I understand that Arsene Wenger wants to win trophies the right way, his way, with his philosophy of building up a team from scratch, nurturing young potential into world class players. This is fair enough, but there is no shame in spending a bit of money on that final piece of the puzzle. Fans and pundits will still respect you, as you have established this great squad, but you still made the right strategic move by buying proven quality.

Ultimately, it was clear to see that there is still a distinct lack of leadership amongst the Arsenal team. None of the players play with their heart on their sleeves, take the game by the scruff of the neck when it’s required, nor do the players outside of the first eleven seem to deputise capably when the opportunity arises.

In the goalkeeper position, it is no secret the problems have had since German Jens Lehmann left in 2008. Current occupier of the Number One shirt; Manuel Almunia is a great shot stopper, I believe many football fans will agree on that, as on the rare occasions where Arsenal have been "under the kosh" he has made some fantastic saves. Nevertheless there is always an underlying belief that Almunia, or even Fabianski, is an accident is waiting to happen, and when this mistake occurs, it hardly comes as a bombshell.

Just Imagine if Arsenal had a world class consistent goalkeeper playing throughout the entire season? Where would they be? My guess is higher up the table and further in the cups then they are. Names such as Edwin Van Der Sar, Petr Cech or even a Joe Hart prove this statement.

Experienced individuals such as the Tomas Rosicky are clearly not worthy of their first team chances, with the Czech Republic international evidently a shadow of his former self. Another elder member of the squad; Sebastian Squillaci, has failed to impress during his first season in the Premiership, and already looks expendable.

Midfielder Abou Diaby has been very poor this season, both injury-wise and form-wise, and his performances still struggle to convince fans that he is the right man for the job.

Meanwhile fellow centre midfielder Denilson is a very frustrating player indeed, while he is comfortable on the ball, his passing and defensive responsibilities abandon him at critical occasions.

Finally, and for some the most disappointing performer this season; is Russian Andrei Arshavin. He has managed 11 assists this season, but that is the only thing he has produced. He is nowhere close to the form he first showed during his first year at the Emirates. He himself has admitted his form has been poor, but it seems every time the Russian is on the field, he’s more concerned whether he has left the iron on at home, rather than how to beat his opponent.

The biggest fall from grace this season, has been Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh. The 26 year old scored 11 goals in his first 21 games for the club, until the beginning of December where he has appeared in 17 matches, and only managed 1 goal.

This is an amazing drop in form, with the striker himself blaming fatigue/tiredness. We are in March, and it begs the question if, and not when, the Moroccan will regain his form, and whether it will be too little too late for Arsenal.

Arsenal have a brilliant starting eleven, with an attacking prowess and technical ability other teams crave for, but the lack of character, and die hard attitude, which some would call “a winning mentality” is a frailty and a burden Arsenal need to eradicate if they are ever to get over this so called “allergy to silverware”.

Let me know what your thoughts on Arsenal are? What is the cure for Arsenal’s "allergies"?

Manchester United fans, how do you feel? Do you guys see Arsenal as serious contenders, or mandatory challenger? Leave a comment below, and let me know.

Real Talk Football

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Arsenal vs. Barcelona – A Great Contest or A Gulf In Class?

Last night Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League after a enthralling and tiring two legged battle with the side widely regarded as the best team in the world.

The first leg took place just over three weeks ago, with Arsenal coming from a goal down to beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates.

Since then, Arsenal played 5 matches, drawing with Sunderland and Leyton Orient, and then subsequently thumping Orient in a Cup replay. They also beat tricky opponents Stoke, and infamously lost the Carling Cup final to Birmingham City. In the lead up to the return leg in Spain, Arsenal’s form was out of sorts, with one eye was seemingly focused on this game during these domestic games.

As for Barcelona, they played four domestic matches, winning all four. They beat two very tough opponents in Athletic Bilbao and Valencia, while achieving mandatory victories over RCD Mallorca and Real Zaragoza. This would give them perfect momentum heading into the tie.

On the night, in which I’m sure you have all seen by now, Barcelona won 3-1 on the night (4-3 on aggregate) thanks to two goals from star man Lionel Messi, and a goal from Xavi Hernandez. Arsenal’s only goal came through a Sergio Busquets own goal.

Reading the score line, one would assume that the game was a close tie, however the stats would suggest otherwise as Barcelona were dominant, occupying 69% of possession, leaving Arsenal with a season low 31%. Barcelona also had 20 attempts on goal, while Arsenal couldn’t muster a single attempt on or off target. Barca subsequently ran out deserved winners.

Where did it go wrong for Arsenal?

I mentioned the term “stage fright” before Arsenal’s 2-1 Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City. I was concerned that because the players hadn’t played in a final for some while, the lack of experienced individuals throughout the team would struggle to impose themselves on their opposition. This for me was the reason they lost they Carling Cup final, and were unable to deal with the pressure tactics used by Birmingham.

I must admit, before this tough trip to the Camp Nou, I was concerned a scared Arsenal (similar to the team that were easily beaten last year) were going to show up. However I think that Arsenal took the confidence from their first leg victory and carried it on into this game, and didn’t look nervous or overwhelmed.

Although Barcelona dominated possession, Arsenal defended very well. They were not in control of the game, and while Wojciech Szczesny (and then Manuel Almunia) had to make a few saves; they were not barraged with shots.

The first goal which broke the deadlock came late in the first half, after a lapse in concentration from captain Cesc Fabregas, which allowed Lionel Messi to be played in, and then score an exquisite goal. Fabregas giving the ball away in the manor he did, was not out of keeping with Arsenal’s performance. They had a distinct lack of possession, and while they defended astutely, they had no outlets, and subsequently no chance.

The lack of pace throughout the team was evident, and this added to the lack of opportunity to keep possession. Players like Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky were anonymous throughout the game, while Cesc Fabregas failed to get on the ball, and therefore unable to dictate the tempo of play as he usually does.

The high pressure from Barcelona forced Arsenal into making mistakes, and the Gunners were quickly caught on the back foot, and with the “parking the airbus” tactics like Inter Milan’s then boss Jose Mourinho did last year not in Arsenal’s DNA, a goal from Barcelona was inevitable. If you look at the “Player Influence” maps below, it shows how high up the pitch the Barcelona players were, and how deep (and under pressure) Arsenal were.

Onto the controversial Robin van Persie situation, I believe it was very poorly managed by the Arsenal management and team, the Dutchman lost his rag in the first half after an altercation with Eric Abidal and Dani Alves. Twinned with his well known troublesome temperament, the Barca players continued to wind him up, however being sent off for kicking the ball 1 second after the ref blew his whistle for offside was shambolic.

Overprotective refereeing was evident throughout the whole game, and when the sending off came about, Arsenal were level on the night and ahead on aggregate. So they have every right to feel aggrieved.

The final rubbing of salt into Arsenal’s wounds was Dane striker Nicklas Bendtner missing that big opportunity with less than five minutes to go, in which he failed to make the most of a Barcelona lapse in concentration.

Some Arsenal fans have pushed the blame on him, and told me he is “useless” and so on, but the Dane has saved Arsenal with his goals in the past, and would be an easy scapegoat ignoring how poor they performed throughout the match.

Where did it go right for Barca?

To put it simply, Barcelona played their own game. They were at home, so they already felt confident, and if you watch La Liga you can see that Barca does this week in, week out. Dominate possession, dictate the tempo, press profusely, rotate the players, and subsequently beat the opposition.

In this match, the full backs were valuable assets to the Barcelona attack. Dani Alves is widely regarded by some as one of the best footballers in the world, let alone the World’s best full back. He was superb last night, and as noted on the player influence maps from earlier, he pushed so far forward, that even if Arsenal managed to regain possession and use Samir Nasri as an outlet on the left wing, he was too busy tracking Alves who ended up playing like an out and out right winger. This neutralised the Nasri attack, and often leaving left back Gael Clichy isolated against both Alves and Pedro.

On the other flank, Adriano was selected ahead of Maxwell, and he was doing exactly the same tactics as Alves. Bombing forward and offering support to both Iniesta and Villa. Adriano had no problems against Rosicky, who was off the pace for most of the game, and at one point in the game, the Brazilian even hit the post.

With part time centre backs Abidal and Busquets occupying those key positions on the pitch, they were never really troubled. With this revolutionary/crazy 2-1-4-3 Barcelona formation, Javier Mascherano played the Sergio Busquets role whereby he drops in a third centre back, which allows the full backs to bomb on with such freedom as they do.

In midfield, the two maestro’s Andres Iniesta and Xavi both dictated the play as expected, with Iniesta completing 97 out of 105 passes (92.4% success rate) and Xavi, as usual, the top passer on the pitch completing 120 out of 133 attempted passes, with a 90.2% success rate. The only Arsenal player in the top ten lists of passers, came in at tenth place, was Englishman Jack Wilshere. Talisman Cesc Fabregas was 14th on the list.

Football can seem simple sometimes, you keep the ball, you can’t concede. If only it was as simple as that, but the way Barcelona play, they make it look this simple. Arsenal are fantastic at the passing game, but Barcelona are great.

Another factor which undone the Arsenal side was Argentine star Lionel Messi. For around 30 minutes the Barcelona number 10 was very quiet, and wasn’t as instrumental in the attacks as we’re use to seeing. However his influence in the game grew more and more as he decided to pick up the ball from deep and started to run at the Arsenal defence. This caused the Arsenal players to drift out of position, and meant midfielders were often dragged back covering, and out of position. Another inevitable situation, whereby it was sooner rather than later Messi would break through and get an attempt on goal.

The final element which Arsenal couldn’t comprehend with was Barcelona’s pressing game. This was at its highest level I’ve ever seen in the last 5 meetings between the two sides. Every time Arsenal regained possession, they were either too indecisive in their passing, dwindling on the ball too long, and before they knew it, they were under pressure from two to three Barca players. This caused Barca to regain the ball high up the pitch, and therefore they have possession closer to the opponent’s goal, and subsequently creating more chances.

Pundit Jamie Redknapp made a great point in the Sky Sports wrap up show, saying “the other reason they press so well is (because) they’re fresh, they pass the ball so well, they protect it, they retain the ball, (and) they’re never tired. So when they lose it, they’re still fit, still sharp, they close in packs and swarm all over you”.

A great description to the sheer brilliance, and hard work put in by Barcelona. All these elements factored into Barcelona’s comfortable victory over the Gunners.

Final thoughts on the game

For me, Barcelona are the favourites for the trophy, as they were in the beginning of the tournament. They are still the team to beat, and the team no one else would like to draw in the next round. They can also be impressed with the versatility shown by Sergio Busquets, and him taking on his new centre back role with enthusiasm and commitment.

Arsenal on the other hand, needs to regain composure and their focus, and after a bad two weeks, they need to concentrate on the Premier League title race. Barcelona is still on course for a treble, and it would not be wise to bet against them in all three competitions.

Finally it’s not all doom and gloom for Arsenal fans, tireless midfielder Jack Wilshere is going to be a phenomenal player. He didn’t look out of place against that Barca side, and is a future Arsenal captain.

Also Laurent Koscienly is a very promising defender with lots of potential and with this unexpected prolonged run in the Arsenal first team (all season) he can be proud of what he has achieved so far, however he is some way off the finished article, but fans can take solace from his performances in the two legs.

Lastly, it’s obvious I haven’t gone into too much depth regarding the Robin van Persie’s red card. Although it was an appalling decision, it remains to be seen whether those 11 men would have actually beaten that Barcelona team, considering Barca dominated all over the pitch.

It’s a disappointing end to Arsenal’s campaign, but maybe it’s time for Arsene Wenger to just ease up on his stubbornness, and possibly look to strengthen to squad for times like this when experienced winners would be vital in these predicaments.

I am not one to be telling a man the calibre of Arsene Wenger what to do, but all his hard work he has put into Arsenal is being undone by this trophy drought, and many fans I have spoken to, have expressed these facts.

What were your thoughts on the game? Who are your favourites for the Champions League? Leave your comments below and let me know.

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Real Talk Football