By Avenell Dave
Before yesterday’s game against Barcelona, I had a strange sense of calm, safely assuming that the game would go well for us and that we would take something to the Nou Camp next week.
While I felt apprehension about the Birmingham game, I just thought that Barca would afford us more time and space on the ball because they don’t play a suffocating game like Ch*vski or Inter Milan.
How wrong I was.
I think all of us sitting in the stadium or watching at home could only be in awe of how Barca played for the first half an hour or so.
As my neighbour said, it was the sort of experience lesser English sides probably feel when they face us.
And while pundits and ‘experts’ alike accused us of being ‘Barcelona Lite’, I think it’s fair to say that we or indeed any other side have a way to go to match how they played in phases.
Have we ever seen a side so dominant, so graceful or talented on the ball?
Even with Lionel Messi giving a performance that was more Lionel Blair, we looked lost and we looked like a team of young pretenders given a sharp and harsh lesson by a perfectly tuned machine.
It was humbling, it was inspiring, it was beautiful to watch.
With 60 minutes gone I received a message saying that we needed a total overhaul if we are ever to win the Champions League. The same correspondent pointed out that we had failed every major test set us this season.
Rash and undeniably unrealistic thinking, no doubt, but after gifting Zlatan Ibrahimovic a couple of goals, we certainly looked a long way from lifting that elusive trophy.
But while there are a million reasons why Arsenal are in my blood and affect wider life decisions in a way a football club really shouldn’t, our ability to respond in times of adversity is right up there.
Andrey Arshavin has had a stinker for much of this season and rushing back William Gallas was always going to be a gamble, but the fact that the team kept going, kept pushing and probing against the might of Barca says a lot for that sense of togetherness and spirit that we have not seen for a few years.
One commentator I read this morning suggested that we might have seen an entirely different game if Theo Walcott had started. Clearly he hadn’t seen Theo’s showing against Birmingham which was abject in the extreme.
Manu Eboue was absolutely the right substitution for Arshavin, getting a balance between defence and attack just right, and when Theo was introduced, it was at a time where Barca’s legs were tiring and the young Gun could take full advantage.
His goal gave us the lift that we needed and although the penalty was soft in the extreme, it makes for a fascinating second leg.
The fact that Cesc refused to come off with what may or may not be a broken leg after scoring from the spot speaks volumes for his own character, especially after the non-booking that keeps him out of the second leg and a homecoming against his former team.
Barca, clearly, will be favourites for the second leg but they have already lost at home in the Champions League and will be without their first choice centre-halves for the return leg.
All over? Don’t you believe it.
We are Arsenal.
By Avenell Dave