Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Elneny, Flamini, Iwobi, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck
Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Coquelin, Campbell, Walcott, Giroud
In a soaking wet Camp Nou Arsenal made a relatively good stab of things even though the scoreline makes it look worse than it was as we went down 3-1 to three pretty good but not spectacular goals. In the first half we created a few decent half chances with Iwobi looking bright and Ozil as ever pulling the strings but our reckless passing cost us. Then in the second half Elneny got one back for us with a great strike before Suarez and finally Messi inevitably wrapped things up for the Catalan giants, leaving us with Everton on Saturday morning as a must win game, if ever there was one.
The under pressure Wenger made several changes from the side that crashed out of the FA Cup with surprise starts for Mathieu Flamini and Alex Iwobi, as Danny Welbeck replaced Olivier Giroud up front and Konscielny replaced Per Mertesacker in the centre of defence. Gibbs, Coquelin and Campbell dropped to the subs bench. Not quite a make shift team but one seemingly with an eye looking toward Saturday’s early kick off at Everton.
Arsenal started brightly, keeping some good possession in the opening exchanges, with Ozil having a decent crack at goal on the 10 minute mark. Then after a typically barnstorming run from Bellerin down their left hand side the ball fell to Eleny who also tried to have a go from distance, but it came to nothing.
Ospina made a great point blank save after Neymar’s long range ball found Messi one on one in the seven yard box 17 minutes in, though luckily the Colombian was alert to it. But it mattered little, because literally the next minute we lost possession in defence and Neymar was threaded through by Suarez to slot home a deft finish. (1-0)
We almost had a decent chance at breaking after some incredible control and pace from Alexis but the resulting cross from Monreal was weak. Again, as if Wenger’s team talk consisted of “have a pop from range lads”, after a botched corner Flamini had a long range attempt go sailing over the bar. Every time Barcelona came forward though they looked very relaxed and very threatening, and we seemed to be content to lay off the them whilst they were in possession for the most part. It felt like pretty much whenever they wanted to they could pop a ball over our defensive line and create a shooting opportunity from nothing.
In between the standard yellow cards for first Flamini then later Gabriel there was a decent penalty shout when Iwobi’s ankles were clipped from behind by Mascherano but the Russian referee waved on. We had a few half chances from Iwobi and Elneny but Alexis really should’ve at least hit the target when he had a free header in their area only to see the ball bobble wide. We always looked like creating chances but in a similar vein we never looked like converting any of them.
Just before the break, as in on the 44th minute, we swapped Flamini for Coquelin, which seemed odd as the whistle blew seconds later to signal the end of the first half.
We started the half very brightly when Iwobi hit the side netting, but straight after on the 51st minute Elneny got his first ever goal for us with an absolute peach of a strike from the edge of their box. Curled beyond the reached of Ter Stegen right into the top corner, great goal. (1-1)
This seemed to rile up the home team though and on the 56th minute Ospina had to make a smart save to his left from a drilled Messi shot. We should’ve really gone ahead when Danny Welbeck broke on the counter attack and went one on one with the keeper but Mascherano did make a decent last ditch tackle to be fair.
Barca kept coming at us in the following minutes but our defensive shape looked a lot more cohesive than in the first half and we reduced them to mainly huffing and puffing around our area. Again, a free header, this time for Welbeck from an Ozil corner, should’ve at least hit the target but was put well wide. Our wastefulness in front of goal was punished, and how. Suarez scored an absolute belter on the volley from a Dani Alves cross in the 64th minute. It looked on the replays that it may have hit his shin but it went right into the top corner leaving Ospina rooted to the spot. (2-1)
The ever threatening Welbeck came close with a blasted shot that ricocheted off their bar, but Barcelona now were in the ascendency, fizzing the ball round our half with aplomb. On the 73 minute we made a double change of Walcott and Giroud for Iwobi and Welbeck. They responded by taking off Rakitic and putting on Arda Turan. On the 79th minute we had a free kick outside their area that Alexis took and forced a great save from Ter Stegen with, then on the follow up Giroud had a chance blocked then Walcott headered wide.
Then our defence went to sleep again and gave Busquet’s a free header in our area that thankfully he did nothing with. There was another half chance when Walcott was played through by Ozil but he was too far wide and Ter Stegen too quickly off his line to make a decent go of it. But it wouldn’t be Barcelona beating us comfortably without us losing the ball and gifting Messi a chance, which is exactly what happened on the 87th minute as a bit of scrambling and lucky passes resulted in Messi lofting the ball over Ospina into our net. (3-1)
We created another quite good opportunity that Alexis failed to convert before the referee blew his whistle and that was that. On to Everton, then.