Last night saw the difference of quality that lies between Arsenal and Barcelona’s second string team. Arsenal made nine changes as they travelled to Greece to face Olympiacos whereas Barcelona made 10 changes as they hosted Bate Borisov. Arsenal lost to Olympiacos 3-1 with some of the senior players putting in sub-par performances, while the youth showed some promise. Olympiacos went out to win that game as they knew they needed a win to have any chance to progress, but BATE Borisov knew that they were out of the Champions League and may be able to feature in the Europa League depending on other results. Not to be cruel to BATE Borisov but Olympiacos are a much stronger side and playing away to them gave Arsenal a major disadvantage whereas Barcelona’s young players had the comfort of a home crowd. Now that is not belittling them at all, anyone can see if they watch the highlights of the Barcelona game that they played just as well as the first team would have. The same thing could not be said about Arsenal’s team. The best players for Arsenal though were their younger players which is something I am sure Arsène will look at with pride, but the performances of Arshavin and Chamakh will not bring a smile to his face or anyone else involved with Arsenal for that matter.
So let’s compare the two teams.
Arsenal had Fabianski, who went off injured, and then Vito Mannone in goal. Neither goalkeeper gave a solid performance and always looked like conceding, though no one expected Mannone to concede a goal in the way he did. Jose Pinto for Barcelona didn’t have as much t contend with but did what he had to, and as the experienced player of the team captained the side.
Arsenal had the chance to put out a weaker defence and give the younger players a chance but decided to keep some experience in the side and have a “stronger” defence with Vermaelen, who was captain, partnered Squillaci in the centre of defence with Djourou at Right-Back and Andre Santos at Left-Back. Vermaelen didn’t have a great game by his standards, but Squillaci still looked suspect and Djourou, who had a good game at Right-Back against Manchester City in the League Cup, really didn’t play the position well and looked very much a Centre-Back playing out of position. Andre Santos was reasonably solid, but with him going forward and Arshavin never covering, his lack of pace was exposed. When Santos went off injured Igansi Miguel, who came from Barcelona a few seasons ago, came on and played at Left-Back just as he did also against Manchester City and again showed promise. He is again a Centre-Back playing out of position, but unlike Djourou played the position well. Wenger could have given the chance to Craig Eastmond to play at Right-Back. He would have been playing out of position, but why not give it a try to give the young player some more game time at Senior level.
Barcelona on the other hand Barcelona had the experienced Left-Back Maxwell the rest was filled up with Barcelona B players. Andreu Fontàs – 22, Marc Bartra – 20 made up the Centre-Back partnership with Martín Montoya – 20 at Right-Back. Fontàs, Barta and Montoya all made their Champions League debuts and Montoya scored to mark the occasion. BATE didn’t give Barcelona the same amount of problems that Olympiacos did Arsenal and some of that is going to come from the perform of the Olympiacos team pressing and playing to win and BATE more just along for the ride and performances from the young Barcelona team compared to the half-hearted performance from more senior Arsenal players. The fact that Barcelona won and didn’t concede a goal and played with three Champions League debutants and Arsenal who had an experienced defence lost 3-1 speaks volumes.
Arsenal’s midfield consisted of Frimpong, Coquelin and Benayoun. I don’t know why Arsène didn’t stick to the 4-4-2 he started with against Man City in the League Cup as they looked rather solid, but he decided to stick with the usual first team 4-3-3 with Frimpong in the holding midfield role and Coquelin and Benayoun as the more attacking midfielders. Benayoun scored with a great finish but didn’t have the best game he could have had. Frimpong and Coquelin, who had impressed me in the League Cup, didn’t fare as well as they would have liked losing possession too much, but to be fair the passes they received didn’t help with that.
In contrast Barcelona’s midfield trio kept the ball and passed it well with Barcelona finishing the game with 70% possession. Thiago continued his progress with a fine performance and was accompanied by Jonathan Dos Santos and Sergi Roberto, who was making his debut in European competition also and scored the opener. Thiago was involved in everything and he and Sergi Roberto combined brilliantly and kept Barcelona moving forward.
Both Arsenal and Barcelona had an attacking trio. Arsenal had Chamakh in a central role with Arshavin on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. Arshavin was in the side to gain more playing time and to prove that he is worth a first team spot but he did not perform at all well on the night and if anything echoed the calls for him to be sold off and replaced. Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other hand continued to show what a talent he is being double and sometimes tripled up on but still retained possession and delivered good balls into the box. Chamakh didn’t show much in the game and like Arshavin has done his self no favours to get himself a first team spot and has probably helped make up Wenger’s mind that a striker is still needed and may need to buy one in January.
Barcelona on the other hand showed what they still have to come through the ranks. Pedro scored the other two Barcelona goals and one was a beautifully executed flick, a goal Messi would have been proud of. But even with the 2 goals Pedro was not the Man of the Match that accolade went to Isaac Cuenca. Cuenca set up two of the goals and one the penalty that Pedro converted and hit the post. He has already played 5 games for Barcelona this season and has scored 2 goals. He really looks like a player that will soon be playing in Barcelona’s first team more regularly like Thiago and Pedro. Rafinha played a role like Fabregas is playing for Barcelona at the moment where he is a midfielder that is holding the central striker space, but is dropping deeper allowing Pedro and Cuenca to drop into the space. Rafinha had a good game, but Cuenca and Pedro over shadowed him.
Barcelona were in a position to substitute his players and give the chance to even more reserve players with Martí Riverola, Gerard Deulofeu and Marc Muniesa on for Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Dos Santos.
The Result Speaks Volumes
Even though the team Barcelona faced were an easier opponent, they still had to work hard to score the 4 goals they did, and they showed how much class is coming through the ranks and that for years to come Barcelona are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Arsenal can not boast the same but can look forward to some good players coming through the side. Where Barcelona can say many of those players are Barça through-and-through, Arsenal can only say that with Frimpong. Oxlade-Chamberlain came from Southampton, Coquelin from Stade Lavallois and Miguel from Barcelona. Frimpong and Oxlade-Chamberlain to me look like the two players that could be seeing Premiership football on a regular basis for Arsenal with Coquelin and Miguel having their chances to prove themselves. But if Barcelona fielded that team against the team Arsenal fielded it would have made for great watching but in the end Barcelona would have ended up the victors