Arsenal vs Barcelona – A classic encounter ten years On


With the return of the UEFA Champions League this week, we turn the clock back ten years to February 16, 2011, when Arsenal defeated Barcelona in what was a memorable night at the Emirates.

Arsenal was managed by Arsene Wenger who had guided them to the Premier League title in 1998, 2002 and most notably their invincible season of 2004. He also led them to the Champions League Final in 2006 where they were beaten 2-1 by Barcelona in Paris.

Despite the shortage of finances for players following their move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, they were still a side full of quality, which included the likes of, young protege Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie and the Captain Cesc Fabregas, who was a youth player at Barcelona’s La Masia academy and close to signing for his former side in the previous Summer.

Barcelona was coached by Pep Guardiola, who was in his third season at the Catalan club. Under Guardiola’s guidance, the Spanish giants had lifted a lucrative League, Cup and European treble in 2009. They retained their La Liga title in 2010, but they were unable to make it back to back Champions Leagues as they were knocked out by Jose Mourinho’s Inter at the Semi-Final stage.

Their side included the goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, the centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol,  the midfield duo of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, and the Potent front three of David Villa, future Chelsea man Pedro and the Argentine Lionel Messi, who had just won his second consecutive Balon D’or. His four goals at the Nou Camp knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League in the previous season as they went on to reach the last four.

Arsenal had made an impressive start to their group, winning their opening three games. However back to back away defeats at Shaktar Donetsk and Braga meant they went into the final game of the group with the possibility of them going out of the Champions League.

But a penalty from Van Persie, as well as second half goals from Theo Walcott and Nasri helped the Gunners to a 3-1 win over Partizan Belgrade and ensured their place in the second phase

Barcelona meanwhile won their group and went into the knockout phase undefeated, having won four and drawn twice. And as fate had it, ten months on from the Messi masterclass at the Camp Nou, they were drawn against the Gunners in the round of 16.



Arsenal had the first big opportunity of the game when Cesc Fabregas chipped it over Dani Alves and Pique to find Van Persie which forced a save out of Victor Valdes.

Barcelona then had a big chance of their own, Messi was played in by Villa and was left one on one with Arsenal’s keeper Wojciech Szezsney however, the Argentine put it just wide of the post.

Jack Wilshere then lead the next Arsenal break, he glided past Iniesta to play in Theo Walcott who then released Fabregas, the Spaniard crossed it to Van Persie, but an important header from Eric Abidal denied the Dutchman an open net and Arsenal an early lead.

But before the half-hour mark. Messi played a through ball to Villa who slotted it in the bottom corner to give Barcelona the lead and the crucial away goal. Replays showed that the Spaniard was onside, despite the call of some of the Arsenal players.

Despite the North London side falling behind, they continued to cause Barca problems, once again Wilshere drove his side forward, his pass found Van Persie, but for the third time that evening, he was unable to convert.

Messi then thought he doubled the Blaugrana’s advantage. His pass once again opened up the Gunners defence to slide in Pedro, Szczesny dived down to block the effort, the save ricocheted off Pedro and was headed in by Messi, however, it was flagged for offside. Half-time, and it was 1-0 Barca at the interval

Jack Wilshere continued from where he left off after the break. He played a one-two with Fabregas and tested Valdes when he hit it on the half volley, but the youngster was denied.

Pique would come to the rescue for the away side, Samir Nasri crossed it low to Van Persie, but the Spaniard sliding challenge denied Arsenal a well-deserved equaliser.

Then, a huge moment of the match, Messi danced his way through the Arsenal midfield and fired his attempt away, only to be blocked by Johan Djourou, Emmanuel Eboue was unable to clear the danger and Messi had a second attempt but his effort then hit the side-netting. Preventing Barcelona, going 2-0 up.

The Gunners were playing some breathtaking stuff against arguably the best side in the world at the time, and their performance got what they deserved. In the 78th minute, french Full-back Gael Clichy lobbed it over the top of the Barca defence and found Van Persie, whose volley from a tight angle beat Valdes to put Arsenal back on level terms. Van Persie ran across to his manager and celebrated with Wenger.

Then when many Arsenal fans thought it couldn’t get any better it did. With seven minutes to go Wilshere linked up with Fabregas who released Samir Nasri, who got into the penalty area and found Andrey Arshavin who slotted it passed Valdes into the bottom corner.

Arsenal had turned the game around and were 2-1 in front. The goal was accompanied by some iconic commentary from ITV’s Clive Tyldsley who described it as Arsenal’s own”Barcelona goal.”

“He’s got support, Samir Nasri, Arshavin! Dream Goal…… A Barcelona goal, from Arsenal!” –  Clive Tylsdley

But Barcelona gave Arsenal a scare in the dying embers of the game. Messi once again drove his side forward and played in Dani Alves who forced a save out of Szezsney.

Then, Arshavin almost went from hero to zero his attempted header allowed Alves once again to get a crack at goal, he was forced wide by the Polish international, Szezsney he crossed it to Messi, but was denied his first goal in England by a block by Laurent Koscielny who then cleared it to safety.

Arsenal held on for the win and the full-time whistle was met by a rapturous cheer from the home crowd. Wenger was seen with a smile as he went to hug his No.2 Pat Rice before going over to consolidate his Spanish counterpart Guardiola.

However Guardiola would have the last laugh, his side would defeat Arsenal 3-1 in the return leg at the Nou Camp, going through on aggregate and would go on to lift their fourth European Cup.

Meanwhile Arsenal would lose the core of that squad in the following 18 months Captain Cesc Fabregas returned to Barcelona that Summer, Nasri went to Manchester City, While Robin Van Persie joined Manchester United.

But despite the following events it still goes down of one of the greatest ever nights in Arsenal’s history.



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