Tuesday 21 November 2017

Wenger boys get harsh lesson in the art of possession

Kevin Garside at the Emirates Stadium

IT'S football son, but not as we know it. The sentiment passed between fathers and sons witness to this peerless exhibition of poetry and venom. Anything done to perfection is art, according to Arsene Wenger, a view rammed elegantly down his throat by the visiting Barcelona gallery.

"I'd go home now," said an ailing Gooner waiting for his blood to simmer down at half time. Though ultimately glad he didn't, you knew what he meant. It is one of the mysteries of this game that a team so dominant should walk away with a temporary share of the honours.

Twenty-two seconds into the second half, the goal that threatened to rip the Arsenal net in a coruscating opening period arrived courtesy of Barca's worst performer, that recurring dud on English fields, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It might have been half a dozen by then. There are two ways of playing this game. Like Barcelona or like everybody else. The opening minutes amounted to a schooling in the art of possession, the thing Arsenal are supposed to be good at. Arsenal were camped outside their area in a re-enactment of the Alamo, drowning in a tidal wave of custard.

There was none of the deference shown by Manchester United in Munich. Barcelona set out as they do in La Liga. It matters not whether home or away. We are Barcelona, they say. This is how we play. Beat us if you can. In the psychology of the game, never mind the footwork, Barcelona are the alpha beast.

No man is unavailable. No Barcelona player is ever marked since the opposition is barely acknowledged. The first half was an assault on Arsenal's self-esteem, after which they needed counselling. The fans did at any rate.

Mes que un club -- 'more than a club'. This is how Barcelona see themselves. The self-conscious motif, bound up in a Catalan ideal, independent and unique, is splayed across the Nou Camp seats. Not so much a team, they say, as a feeling, an emotion. A football club has thus become a badge, a global branding iron for a corner of northern Spain seeking to distance itself from the administration in Madrid.

England has no equivalent, save for the quirky claims of the Geordie Nation, who campaign for their own unique positioning in the colours of Newcastle United. The appropriation of Barcelona by the Catalan politicos gives the separatists a popular identity and mobilises the Nou Camp romantics in their own eternal struggle with Real Madrid.

The Barca philosophy makes a virtue of its youth policy, which last night produced seven first-team members. The flaw in the construct is that not all are from Catalonia. They all speak the same language with a ball at their feet. An added embarrassment for Arsenal was the minimalist input of Lionel Messi in the hegemonic ring imposed by the visitors.

It was not that the World Player of the Year failed to colour the canvas with his mesmeric touches, only that the rest of them did so, too. It was a humiliation universally inflicted. The Barcelona players were sprouting from the ground like the skeletal fruit of Hydra's teeth in Jason and the Argonauts. It was a pitiless, limitless battery.

In any other scheme Danny Alves would be a right winger. Barcelona's riches are such that they can tuck the Brazilian flyer at right-back. On the left Maxwell gave the impression of a latter day Rivelino despite a notional left-back berth. It was a mercy and a miracle that the first half ended goalless.

The scoreboard ultimately yielded to the law of gravity, the weight of Barcelona pressure releasing Ibrahimovic a second time. Arsenal were taken apart by Chelsea and United at the Emirates, but not as comprehensively as this. Notionally Barcelona were weakened by the absence of Andres Iniesta. The capacity to fill the slot demonstrates why Cesc Fabregas is unlikely to be making the return journey to Catalunia in a hurry. They don't need him.

The removal of Bacary Sagna for Theo Walcott, a defender for a striker with 24 minutes remaining, was the act of a dead men walking. Wenger had nothing to lose. Walcott's instinct for the game has been questioned by those who know about keeping football on a string.

Former England winger Chris Waddle thinks him not in essence a footballer but a sprinter in boots. He might have to return to his subject. Speed kills in any sport. Footballer or not, Walcott put the wind up Barca for the first time all night, his goal checking the stride of the cup holders.

And what of England? If Fabio Capello can tease more from him than the cameo role afforded last night, England have another dimension on the right. Barcelona went down like a popped balloon. Arsenal were suddenly in a game that seemed beyond them. A clumsy heave in the box saw Fabregas climb off the floor to convert the penalty. All this and Messi substituted. Fate wore an Arsenal scarf last night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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