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Friday, April 02, 2010

Arsenal fighting spirit; Barcelona total-football-plus; Brazilian commentary on Walcott's goal and best wishes to Captain Cesc

The first half of the Arsenal v Barcelona match on Wednesday night was mesmerising. Barcelona immediately zoned into a supersonic rhythm of pass and move attacking football the speed of which I had never seen before. It was co-ordinated football of record-breaking speed. You could tell that the Barcelona players knew they had hit a new level of brilliance, and Pep Guardiola said after the game that it was the best first half he has ever seen from his team. This was special football - its football that should be remembered.

Manuel Almunia came into the game low on confidence after being somewhat at fault for the late Brimingham equaliser at the weekend. But he made save after brave save in the first twenty minutes to keep Arsenal from being snowed under; showing a strength of character which partly explains why Wenger continues to stand by him. Vermaelen made a tremendous sliding clearance from a deadly cross, and Song and Sagna got their bodies in the way of goalbound shots. Barcelona had reduced us to the old-school Arsenal of the Geroge Graham era - extreme defensive scrambling with the crowd roaring the players to hold on in there. It was amazing and my respect definitely goes to Barca for exhibiting football in the first half that was verging on perfection.

Zlatan scored two classy goals early in the second half with the otherwise excellent Vermaelen abandoning his defensive position. It was two bad goals to give away - but given the nature of Barcelona's first half performance it was perhaps a fair reflection of Barcelona's dominance up to that point.

The turning point was the 67th minute introduction of Walcott. This guy has scored an international hat-trick in Croatia; he tore apart the whole Anfield pitch to set up Adebayor for what looked set to be a crucial Champs League quarter final winner having just turned 19 years old; and he always displays a demeanour and temperament that makes me believe that he will translate his elite potential into achievement. He is a big-time player; he has what it takes.

Walcott's timing of his run followed by his first touch at lightning speed from a sublime Bentdner pass was fantastic; his composed finish too quick for Valdes to react to. His celebration was full of class too - running straight to Diaby with determination etched on his face; he represented the Arsenal fighting spirit that has long been part of our club.

Walcott had Barcelona on the edge. Every time he got the ball he looked dangerous and the Arsenal crowd knew that he had turned the momentum to our side. It was Walcott's dinky cross into the box which let to Bendnter's tremendous cushion header into Cesc's path and the resulting award of a penalty. Cesc's conversion of the penalty with a broken leg again demonstrated the Arsenal fighting spirit; this is a team with true character unlike the cowardly kickers of Stoke and Birmingham.

This match will be remembered for great footballing reasons. Barcelona's first half performance in the home of Arsenal was total-football-plus; while Arsenal's footballing fightback in the second half showed a resilience and courage worthy of respect - Cesc's commitment to keep running across the Emirates with a broken leg epitomising his and Arsenal's excellent fighting spirit.

The bad note from the night came in the news that Cesc has now been ruled out for the rest of the season with a leg fracture. Hopefully he recovers in time for the World Cup - he is a player and personality who does not deserve to miss out on playing in the world's biggest football competition. The best of luck Cesc.

If you would like to see the goals again check out the video below. In particular you may want to listen out for the Brazilian commentary of Walcott's goal - it's fantastic!


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