Friday 20 April 2018

Failure to take chances kills Arsenal's hopes of a shock

Danny Welbeck hits a shot under pressure from Javier Mascherano. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Danny Welbeck hits a shot under pressure from Javier Mascherano. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsenal started brightly without taking advantage

Barcelona do not give many chances but the time to punish them is in the first 15 minutes of games. They do not start intensely, as they often do not need to in La Liga. In the first leg at the Emirates they did not get going for a while, and Arsenal failed to take advantage early on. It was the same last night, with Barcelona strikingly casual for the first quarter of an hour. Arsenal were more intense than them, pressed them into mistakes and created some meaningful chances on goal. If they were to get anything out of the game - and it was always extremely unlikely - they needed to score early on. Then, it might have been a different game.

Elneny brings much-needed purpose to midfield

The story of Arsenal's collapse this season has been the collapse of their midfield. The most important moment was Santi Cazorla rupturing knee ligaments at Norwich in November, trying to play on, then needing surgery. Mohamed Elneny is not as good as Cazorla, but he does at least bring a sense of purpose and direction to a midfield which has lost both.

He brought much-needed energy last night, and a goal threat to the edge of the box. After testing Marc-Andre ter Stegen a few times he scored after 51 minutes, with a clever curled shot from just outside the box early in the second half. With Aaron Ramsey out with another muscle injury, Elneny's drive will be crucial.

Suarez volley was a reminder of his excellence

This was not learned wholly last night but Luis Suarez is a brilliant footballer who has the imagination and the skill to find clever new ways to make the difference in games. Arsenal were playing well at 1-1 and were two goals away from what would have been an implausible away-goals win.

But then Dani Alves chipped a delicate cross over from the right hand side and Suarez ended the contest. Leaping backwards into the air, he contorted his body in such a way that he could volley the ball with his right shin into the far opposite corner of the net. He has scored many wonderful and important goals and yet this was nowhere near the best.

Barcelona's world-class stars are a cut above

With better technical execution in the final third Arsenal could have made this a more difficult evening for Barcelona. The hosts lacked the presence of Gerard Pique at centre-back, and even with Javier Mascherano throwing himself around, there were still openings for Arsenal. But Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the two closest players Arsenal have to world class, could not seize control of the situation and make the difference. The gap between them and Barcelona's world stars was clear enough, as they took their chances to kill the game. All Barcelona's front three scored, Neymar with a cool finish, Suarez's acrobatic volley and then Lionel Messi's clever chip with the outside of his left boot, reminiscent of last year's semi-final, which put the result beyond doubt.

History beckons for Luis Enrique's side

Barcelona are trying to become the first team to retain the European Cup since the Milan of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, to name but three, in 1990, against Benfica, and even though they were not at their fluent best last night, they still emerged from the evening with a healthier chance of making history.

They beat Arsenal, on the night and on aggregate, without playing anywhere near their best, and with a clear sense that they have a few extra levels they can reach if and when they need to.

Even more helpful were the struggles of Bayern Munich, the next-best team in Europe for the past few years, who had to fight back from conceding two early goals against Juventus. Max Allegri's side, PSG and Atletico Madrid are the likeliest teams to challenge Luis Enrique's all-conquering side, and it is hard to see any of them causing an upset. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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