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    • #5713
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      By Abayomi Kalejaye

      As the ball sailed briskly past the outstretched hand of Ter Stegen, Arsenal fans were transported into a predictable limbo – to hope or not to hope. It was a conundrum evidently typified by Arsene Wenger. A measured concatenation of emotions – suppressed delight and caution – portrayed by a man that wanted to believe force majeure could be averted but at the same time aware that it would certainly not be case.

      The first sixteen minutes of the game transpired on a tempo that verged on ferocious. Passing for passing, speed for speed, pressing for pressing, Arsenal, to their credit, matched Barca tactically. But not for long. For a terrific trio like MSN, it couldn't be. After Messi missed a sitter from a magnificent Neymar pass – not forgetting an equally magnificent Ospina save, the latter opened scoring with a cool finish from a Suarez pass. At that point, Arsenal seem to be heading for the slaughterhouse. Unlike the first leg, they were able to level the scores via a brilliant Elneny curler. Despite the impetus generated by the goal, Arsenal found themselves unable to sow chaos to the Blaugrana defence that looked charitable on the night. Then came a ‘golazo’ from Suarez. Perfectly judging the trajectory of the ball, the Uruguayan unleashed a stunning volley that had Ospina wondering if an illusory trick had just been performed on him. When Messi (who else) crowned his modest performance with a goal, the match had already been over as a contest.

      Frustratingly for Arsenal fans, it was another night of ‘Arsenal tried, but….’ After several years of under-achievement, it is high time Arsenal thoroughly address ‘the buts’ that has seen them crash out in the second round of the Champions league for the sixth consecutive time as well as not winning the EPL title since 2004. In terms of quality, in all honesty, there isn’t much to choose between Barcelona and Arsenal. Both have fragile backlines that could be breached with minimal effort most times. However, the point of dichotomy lies in the otherworldly frontline the Blaugrana possess. While Barcelona lacked their customary coordination in attack, Arsenal on their part availed themselves well by carving out chances that were bottled – in some cases, comically. The inferior quality in the final third was too glaring to ignore. Prior to the paucity of quality centre forwards in the transfer market, Arsenal had the traction and means to lure forwards like Aguero, Lewandoski, Suarez, but to name a few. Arsene’s frugal approach meant those breed of forwards evaded him. For all the quality the likes of Giroud and Welbeck possess, there would always be a limit their skill sets can be exhibited.

      Going by fans’ increasing disapproval of Wenger, the Frenchman’s days at the Emirates may sooner rather than later be over, even as he remains one of the best football managers whose only flaw was his questionably costly transfer policy post ‘The Invincible’ era.

      Juve’s Grit Undone by Pep’s Wit

      One of the cruelest experience a coach can experience in football is conceding a late minute goal. It’s like a dagger to the heart – especially after putting in a lot of hard work. In the 91st minute when Mueller rose highest to nod home a delightful cross from Kingsley Coman, Allegri must have been cursing his luck seeing they were only three minutes away from progression. Thereafter the match was poised for a fiery conclusion during extra-time. Prior to that, Juve had perfectly executed a tactical plan that stifled Bayern’s attacking potentials; pressing them high up the pitch and forcing errors that eventually led to goal scoring opportunities. It wasn’t much of a surprise, really. Juventus, who have won all but one of their last 19 Serie A games, refused to cower to the spell of the Bavarian juggernaut. Two tactical changes was all it took for Bayern to turn the tide and move to the next stage of the UEFA Champions League. With Frank Ribery having a bummer of a match that makes you wonder if he had been mining coal all day prior to the match, Kingsley Coman’s presence on the right wing enabled Douglas Costa switch to the left wing the Frenchman had been unproductively occupying. The substitution of the 19-year Bayern loanee (Co-incidentally from Juventus) proved effective as he made a pre-assist. Then an assist. And went one better with a goal – a spectacular solo – in that chronological order. Ultimately, the high-octane level evinced by Bayern in extra time proved inundating for the Old Lady who had no choice but to succumb.

      By and large, the spectacle delivered in Europe – especially the Barcelona/Arsenal and Bayern/Juventus games – presents an appetizer to what awaits the football sphere in the Quarter-finals of arguably the most prestigious football competition on planet earth.

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