Will Arsenal get past Barca at the Nou Camp?

February 17, 2011

SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Arsenal did a lot of things right in Wednesday’s fine 2-1 comeback win over Barcelona, not least finishing more clinically than their La Liga visitors, but it would be a big surprise if Barca were as generous in the return leg on March 8.

World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who netted all four goals in a 4-1 demolition at the Nou Camp last season to give Barca a 6-3 aggregate victory, missed at least two golden chances at The Emirates and Spain forward Pedro was also guilty of profligacy.

“They were very effective in front of goal and we were not,” midfielder Xavi told reporters. “In European competition you end up paying the price for that.”

Barca’s uncharacteristic defensive errors will also have concerned coach Pep Guardiola and given Arsenal fresh hope that they can get past the Spanish champions into the quarter-finals.

Goalkeeper Victor Valdes committed a rare blunder when he left room at his near post for Robin van Persie to drive in the equaliser from a tight angle.

And who was tracking Andrei Arshavin’s run when the Russian popped up to smash in the winner?

Arsenal’s win was not all about Barca playing below par, however, and there were a number of excellent performances.

Cesc Fabregas demonstrated against his Spain team mates why Barca are so keen to bring him back home and it was his superb, raking pass out to Samir Nasri that set up the winning goal.

Midfielder Jack Wilshere was tireless in midfield and impressively accurate with his passing, and Nasri and Theo Walcott showed they have the pace and skill to cause damage.

Gerard Pique’s yellow card means he will be suspended for the return leg and the ageing Carles Puyol, who should be back from injury by then, is not the best equipped player to thwart Arsenal’s pacy attacks.

Neither is Gabriel Milito, another option for Guardiola in central defence.

Arsene Wenger’s side have given themselves a good chance of progressing to the last eight. But it wouldn’t be any great shock if the peerless Messi sends the London club packing again next month.

PHOTO: Arsenal’s Robin van Persie (R) and Barcelona’s Gerard Pique challenge for the ball during their Champions League soccer match at the Emirates stadium in north London, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Albert Gea.

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