Having had a couple of days to reflect upon the performance against Barca I am somewhat depressed. There was no doubt that the final result of 2-2 flattered us. Overall the biggest frustration for me was that we did not do ourselves justice, the fact that we did not have eleven fit players on the pitch meant we were never going to be able to press and compete with Barca as we should have, the whole of Europe were watching and we did not show them what we can do.
Cesc must have fractured his fibula against Birmingham thanks to that appalling Gardner tackle, and although he papered over the cracks with the late penalty, he was clearly not fit enough to be starting the game, he wasn't moving freely from the first whistle and given Barca's work rate and pressing game you need to have all hands at the pump. The gamble to start with Gallas was also wrong, he hasn't played a game for weeks, this backfired badly and resulted in Alex Song, who was having a decent game in midfield, being played out of position at centre back. It was no coincidence that Song was caught well out of position for both Barca goals in the second half, he is no centre back and will be caught out like this when playing out of position.
Fundamentally we didn't have eleven fit players on the pitch and even the fit ones didn't work hard enough to close down Barca, the way Barca hunted in packs and pressed in groups was the way we needed to play but didn't. Arshavin hasn't looked himself for a few weeks, I suspect he's been carrying injuries, for whatever reason he didn't track back enough before his calf injury ended his game prematurely. Starting the game with two players of dubious fitness was not clever and Arsene must surely regret this decision in retrospect.
The first half hour or so was as one sided a game as you will ever see, we couldn't keep the ball and Barca tore us apart time and time again, luckily Manuel was on fire and thanks to some truly outstanding saves we somehow managed to stay in the game. Barca had far too much time and space on the ball, only Song was closing people down, our full backs were left exposed as our wide players failed to track back, it was poor for the first half hour.
After this first half hour we did come into the game and for the rest of the match Barca never looked as dangerous as they did for the first thirty minutes. We cut them open several times with some nice moves, Bendtner almost scored when offside, Nasri beat the keeper but was narrowly wide, while a couple of dangerous cut backs were only thwarted by last ditch defensive lunges. It was perverse that Barca scored twice in the second half, as they didn't really threaten all that much, twice long balls saw Song far too far away from Ibrahimovich, the big nosed tosser finished well to be fair to the cockhead.
The referee was utter gash, he made it very easy for Barca by giving them free kicks whenever they dived to ground after minimal contact, while he let them shirt tug and trip with impunity to win the ball back, Messi was constantly fouling but the ugly little bastard was allowed to do what he wanted because he is the golden boy of world football at the moment. The ref booked several of our players for nothing and Cesc's booking for a clean tackle beggared belief. One decision to give Barca a free kick when Song toed the ball away from Ibrahimovich cleanly as the Swede backed into him was demonstrative of just how incompetent this wanker of a referee actually was.
Strangely several of our much maligned players were our best players against Barca. Almunia kept us in the match, Clichy was excellent in my opinion, Nasri did well offensively, Bendtner worked hard up front, then there was Theo. It was a great moment for the young man, his brilliant cameo for the final twenty minutes or so will do his confidence no end of good, his goal was well taken and his pace gave Barca so much trouble that they were panicked into a defensive substitution in order to hand on to the 2-2 draw.
So my overall summary would be that we were not fit enough or good enough on the day, Barca were great and the ref was useless. However somehow we are still in this tie and Barca have both their centre backs out of the second leg, stranger things have happened, but we will have to score at the Camp Nou. Generally I think the match showed up a few problems that have been evident in our squad all season, our squad is not strong enough in certain positions, we do not have enough battling midfielders and we do not work hard enough as a team in pressing the opposition. Quite simply if you are going to line up as a 4-3-3 against Barca then you need all eleven players to be fully fit, you need both wide front players to work extremely hard defensively in complementing the midfield, and then you may well still be outplayed, if you don't do the aforementioned then you do not have a chance of competing.
Cesc is now out for the season, Gallas probably too, while Arshavin will miss a few weeks. Attention turns to Wolves and this will be no walk in the park, we need to turn up and fight for every point between now and the end of the season, we cannot afford any more first halves like Wednesday's against Barca.