By Editor Wayne Veysey
Arsenal lack a top-class striker
This was the fourth home match out of five in which the Gunners have failed to score. Despite Barcelona’s dominance of possession, Arsenal created dangerous situations and some good opportunities. But once again they paid the price for their lack of killer touch in the penalty area. Arsene Wenger has backed his strikers to the hilt but they have all lost form at the time in the season when the big players start to deliver. He will never publicly admit it, but he should have gone to greater lengths to snare a top forward in the past few years.
Wenger learns from past mistakes
Solid, tactically smart and resilient, this was the kind of Arsenal display that has been conspicuously absent at this stage of the competition for half a decade. Wenger’s strategy was the correct one, perhaps the only one against the all-conquering visitors – play deep and narrow, and launch the odd breakaway attack. As expected, Barcelona had more than 70 per cent possession but the home side kept them relatively quiet until they were caught by a lightning-fast counter attack after 72 minutes that was clinically finished by Lionel Messi. Arsenal played reasonably well, but they are not in Barca’s class. Few are.
Messi is still numero uno
Luis Suarez has probably been the best player in Europe this season and Neymar is on course to eventually become the best on the planet. But Messi’s status as the world’s best is currently unthreatened. In the big matches, he remains the go-to man, the player best able to operate in tight spaces and unlock well organised defences. He was relatively quiet in the first half but came into his own in the second, when he was operating at a different level to everyone else on the pitch. His two goals lifted his tally in a Barcelona shirt to a barely comprehensible 441.
Sanchez emerges from trough
After his worst run of performances in an Arsenal shirt, Alexis Sanchez showed some of the form of old with a lively display against his former club. He led some dangerous breakaways with his pace and ball-carrying ability and looked the most likely player to put some pressure on the Barcelona defence. He was also a willing defensive accomplice to Nacho Monreal, and made some important challenges on Messi.
Coquelin is Arsenal’s key midfielder
In just his third start since recovering from knee ligament damage, the midfield enforcer did as much as anyone else in red-and-white to deny the visitors for more than two-thirds of the match. It did not go unnoticed that when he was substituted after 80 minutes – presumably due to exhaustion – Barcelona opened Arsenal up almost at will. His replacement Mathieu Flamini also conceded a penalty with a wild hack at Messi with virtually his first action of the game.