Arsenal began the UEFA Champions League match taking the initiative and pushing forward very well and at the required pace at every opportunity. They were far more penetrative than their usual selves, motivated to win and trying to score early. Theo Walcott was the architect of their moves but it all ended in barrenness in front of goal.
Barcelona started cautiously in going forward but they made sure to press from upfront but they were content with slowing things down to break Gunners momentum. The Gunners should have been rewarded for their first 15 minute spell, but Barca came back strong settling and taking the initiative. Their intentions were underlined by Messi's dink missing the upright and then David Villa getting vital touches and spaces behind defensive lines.
Abidal's vital touch put off Robin van Persie after a flowing move involving Walcott and Cesc Fabregas. Messi set up Villa who beat the goalkeeper with a low shot in the 25th minute for the first goal. Pedro's back heel was well saved 3 minutes later before van Persie wasted a golden chance to equalise on a counter. Barca sieged the Arsenal half like a swam of bees, posing as much danger. A 37th minute goal attempt by Messi looked a genuine goal but was ruled offside, but Messi is class.
Gunners coach, Arsene Wenger, did well to have Emmanuel Eboue and Samir Nasri. Walcott's fine form and Jack playing with amazing maturity was a refreshing site. Arsenal should have compacted midfield with Fabregas, Wishire and Song anchoring play to close off all spaces for Messi. Messi played from almost a central defensive position and when the man comes with an attacking momentum from that deep, there is not much one can do. Villa and Pedro were running rings and tearing the Gunner defence to tatters.
Barcelona always attack starting from the back, with all offensive option flat and square before the attacking 3rd of the field. Defenders are drawn off good defending positions and then the acceleration from the forwards and midfielders explodes like a spring loaded effect with lethal effect. It is safe to assume they play a 1-5-5 formation with 2 extra guys beefing up attack to make 7 strikers at any given attacking move and the same happening when possession is lost, to give 7 defensive men in defence. So you can safely say Barca play a 1-7-7 formation if you like. They have extra personnel in each phase.
It took Andre Arshavin's introduction and artistry on the left to interplay with Gael Clichy to set up van Persie. The Ducth beat Valdes in the 77th minute at the near post with a clinical first touch strike to level matters. Arshavin came in with a classical finish with 7 minutes of play remaining, after receiving a neat pass from Nasri. Wilshire and Fabregas exchanges passes and sent through Nasri on the right. The Gunners smelt blood and became relentless in pressuring a rattled Barca, who did not know what hit them.
A late threat by Barca was smothered by the Gunners and it was such an incredible turn around of events. Arsenal now know Barcelona are beatable and the stage is set for the return leg in Spain in the 2nd leg. Today is celebration night but it is still a tall order to face a Barca seeking revenge.