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John Giles: Barca just brilliant

IT MIGHT seem like a very odd compliment to Xavi, Iniesta and Messi if I said that even Jack Charlton would have found a place for them in his team.

He was as suspicious of gifted players as any manager who ever lived but even Jack would tip his cap and admit that every one of Barcelona's remarkable talent triangle puts in a shift.

I've always said that Ireland under Charlton were the best side in the world when they didn't have the ball but maybe not so good when they had it.

Everyone accepts that no team can match Barcelona with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi in full attacking flow but against Arsenal last night, we saw a wonderfully complete performance.

In possession, they moved the ball around the pitch beautifully but as soon as they lost it, every Barcelona shirt was committed to winning it back.

When good players, known for high levels of ability on the ball, can combine skill with hard graft, the result is a joy to watch.

I know they still have problems at the back and I will always be puzzled that Pep Guardiola doesn't go out and buy two outstanding centre-backs, but when they play this well in all other facets of the game, a dodgy defence is neither here nor there.

As always, Arsene Wenger could not let a night go by without his usual excuses and this time, his reasons for losing the game centred around the referee again – surprise, surprise.

Both Wenger and Robin Van Persie had a go at the referee after the game over the red card and if you take the incident which caused the Dutchman to be sent off in isolation, it looked like they had a point.

But that would be to ignore the fact that Van Persie behaved like an idiot just before half-time when he got himself embroiled in a pointless feud with Danny Alves and other Barcelona players and was yellow-carded. That was the moment the damage was done.

The referee, who had a great game, had had enough of Van Persie and was in no mood to be tolerant. Blame the player for that, not Massimo Busacca.

There's a fundamental problem here which Wenger might never get to grips with. As long as he stands in front of a camera every time he loses and blames the referee, how can he impose the kind of discipline he needs from his own players.

Instead of hammering Van Persie for the unprofessional way he behaved when he was yellow-carded in the first place, he ignores that and shoves responsibility onto a match official who had no case to answer.


Arsenal have always been labelled as a brittle team under pressure and I think that this characteristic flows from the manager.

This is now the third season in a row that Arsenal have fallen apart and when that keeps happening, the conclusion is obvious.

Arsenal are not good enough, have not been good enough and unless Wenger changes the habits of a lifetime, will not be good enough to make the breakthrough in the Champions League or split the dominance of Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League.

As well as irritating everyone with his moaning after the game, Wenger took the shine off what was a decent performance by his players in the circumstances.

They held Barcelona for a long time and played well in defence. Almunia made several top notch saves until Fabregas lost his head completely, played a suicidal backheel and opened the door for Lionel Messi who never needs a second invitation.

But Arsenal knew that they would get a chance and when Busquets headed into his own net, they were right back in the game.

They couldn't keep the ball, though, and Barcelona hit a purple patch. Iniesta and Xavi were in constant motion while Messi probed with a bewildering range of short passing.

Every time he slipped a pass left or right, a Barcelona shirt attacked it at pace and if Wenger is honest with himself, this could easily have been a battering to equal last year's lesson.

Wenger now faces an FA Cup clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Arsenal lose that one and then fade out of the title chase.