As a football fan I think last night's game has to be up there as one of the greatest games I have ever seen, I doubt I will see many better games throughout my whole lifetime, it was that good. Both teams contributed to a magnificently high quality encounter, and if I'm honest either side could have won it, it was tight and on a knife edge for long periods.
Other than some cramping lower abdominal pain from ingesting too many sausage rolls on my way to the Emirates, last night was a night to savour, it is these kind of nights that it is all about, words cannot do these kind of occasions justice. Barcelona are the best side in Europe at the moment and we are not far behind, this combination on a coldish evening in February with the Emirates' floodlights glowing brightly made for a terrific night's entertainment. Eboue came in for Sagna, Nasri was fit enough to start, while Puyol's absence saw Maxwell in at left back with Abidal centrally.
I had kept my hopes deliberately low after last year's game, and we started well for the first ten minutes or so, we looked fairly comfortable and retained the ball well. Unfortunately this didn't last and as the half wore on, Barca came into their own, they dominated. Swarms of Barca players surrounded us whenever we had the ball, their athleticism and work rate was magnificent, fortunately no team can sustain this for ninety minutes and they had to tire at some point. Having said that we were a bit loose with the ball in the first half, our movement was a bit one dimensional and we were a bit slow to move the ball around.
RVP had a great chance early doors after some great work from Walcott and then Cesc, his shot was well blocked by the legs of Valdes. Barca then seemed to come to life, pressing us into some rather uncharacteristic errors. Messi chipped wide when clean through, Szczesny did well to stay big til the last moment. Villa then scored when seemingly offisde, unfortunately Clichy had sloppily played him on. Messi then had a goal disallowed for offside, mighty tight that one. Despite not being at our best, largely because of Barcelona's excellence, we created a couple of other great chances, Cesc's cross shot when clean through on the keeper from a tight angle saw Barca's defence scrambling, RVP then sliced a shot wide from a good position in the box. Half time came and we were still in the game, far far better than last year but Barca had made us look pretty average at times.
We came out aggressively and purposefully in the second half, Barca were not given as much time and space, plus humans simply could not maintain the break neck tempo of the Barca game. We huffed and puffed without creating much clear cut, still it was encouraging that Barca weren't dominating as they had in the first period, we held onto the ball better and were a bit more combative, it helped that the ref allowed a bit more fair contact than he had in the first, by the end of the game he simply wasn't being fooled by some of the Barca play acting.
Wilshere was not only tireless in the midfield, but he also ran the game for long periods, he was our one midfielder who was able to create time and space for himself, jinking away from Barca players and leaving them for dead, awesome stuff from the young man and was the catalyst for last night's recovery. Koscielny was also absolutely superb, rarely giving Messi time to settle, frequently timing his interceptions and tackles to perfection. It should also not be forgotten that without some of Szczesny's expert goalkeeping and making the goal seem small, we would have been more than 1-0 down before RVP got us back in the game last night.
RVP's equaliser came when a goal didn't really look possible, he had been played through in the inside left channel by a Gael Clichy dink, from an almost impossible angle he blasted the ball low and hard into the net, what a hit from his trust left peg, Barca couldn't quite believe that we had scored and we took further advantage. Nasri was played in on goal in the inside right channel, it looked like he would shoot but he played it across goal, I'm sure many of us though 'why did he not shoot', but then we saw why, the ball slid across perfectly for the diminutive Russian Andrei Arshavin to arrive with impeccable timing and coolness of head, his finish made the chance look easy, it was not, a great finish, a great goal, worthy of winning any game. Barca still had time to rally, Szczesny needed to be alert to deny Alves and when the ball was finally hoofed away, many of us breather a massive sigh of relief.
We had won, what a game and what a performance against such a fantastic Barcelona side. Whatever the second leg brings, and it is admittedly far from over, we can be proud that we gave a great account of ourselves last night, we have shown we can compete with the best, but it would be even better if we can beat the best over the course of the two legs. Sagna's return will be more than a bonus. Wilshere and Koscielny were my outstanding players, with RVP and Szczesny not too far behind them. Credit must also go to Arsene for getting the substitutions right, they really did affect the game. Still for the moment let's just enjoy the win, these kind of victories don't come along very often and they must be savoured. Well done you Gunners!