Arsenal 2 v Barcelona 1

It was bound to happen eventually and at the Emirates on Wednesday it finally did. Arsenal’s gifted and talented if somewhat patient play was rewarded with a 2-1 win over Barcelona. Robin Van Persie levelled David Villa’s first half opener seven minutes before time, substitute Andrey Arshavin popped up with an emphatic winner that gives the Gunners hope for the return leg in the Nou Camp in three weeks time.

Range

In his programme notes, Arsene Wenger had called for patience and described how his side will find it necessary to play a more containing game than is normally the case at Emirates. His prediction was a vision to perfection, as Xavi, Iniesta and Lionel Messi pulled the strings that kept the Catalan side purring to almost perfection. So it was to be a waiting game that was needed, and Arsenal played it well. After a two week absence, Samir Nasri was finding his range early and saw an early free kick sail over the bar. On the other wing, Theo Walcott was going through the gears and on six minutes created a move that almost gave Arsenal the lead. The Gunners 14 raced at the Barcelona defence, fed Cesc Fabregas who with a delicious chip put in Van Persie for a strike that only a fine save from Victor Valdes kept out. A minute later, Alex Song let Messi know he was there, a tackle that earned the Cameroon player a yellow card with most the game still in front of him.

Nervous

Playing in their aqua green strip, Barcelona pinged the ball around with purpose, testing, teasing the home side. Villa sent Messi through and with only Wojciech Szczesny to beat, pulled his left foot effort beyond the upright. Credit should go the the young Gunners’ keeper for his positioning. Fabregas was having a nervous half and his error almost gifted the visitors the lead but Messi’s shot fell kindly for Szczesny to hold. On 26 minutes, however, Barcelona took the lead. Messi, found the Villa bisecting the Arsenal defence, and beyond the dive of Szczesny.

Determination

Arsenal responded positively and had seen Van Persie denied a goal with Eric Abidal heading away Fabregas’s cross and the Holland striker hit wildly with only Valdes in his sights after some neat build up play from Fabregas and Jack Wilshere. The Englishman was having the game of his life with skill and determination beyond his 19 years. At the heart of the Arsenal defence, Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny in particular were enjoying a strong performance and just before the break, Van Persie saw a header loop over.

Powerful

Fabregas implored the 59,927 crowd for more noise, as Walcott cut loose on the left. With 20 minutes remaining, Wenger made what proved to be a telling substitution. Not wanting to risk Song getting a red card after some further robust challenges, he brought on Andrey Arshavin. Twelve minutes before the end, Arsenal were level.

Roared

Arshavin found the advanced Gael Clichy and his pass to Van Persie saw the Gunners 10 let fly with a powerful left foot drive that beat Valdes at his near post. Cue more noise. Barcelona had made the mistake of trying to slow the game down and it was to cost the Catalans as Arsenal stepped up a gear. Roared on by a passionate crowd Koscielny broke up a Barcelona attack. Fabregas took the ball and away galloped Nasri on the right. Van Persie drew the defence wide as Arshavin raced in to take the pass and pass the ball at pace and into the net for a famous Gunners’ win.

Wenger acknowledged that Barcelona are still favourites for the tie but accepted that his players now have belief and determination to progress to the quarter-finals.