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Barcelona live the dream and nod off

A forensic examination of this first leg would conclude that Arsenal have only postponed the inevitable. It would say Barcelona surrendered a two-goal lead because they were so superior they might have formed their own book club to while away the second half.

sports Updated: Apr 01, 2010 23:09 IST

A forensic examination of this first leg would conclude that Arsenal have only postponed the inevitable. It would say Barcelona surrendered a two-goal lead because they were so superior they might have formed their own book club to while away the second half.

But Barça's unfailingly impressive coach, Josep Guardiola, is not falling for the eulogies. He said after Arsenal had cancelled out a two-goal lead that looked like the first flakes of an avalanche: “We gave a good image of how football should be played. But only teams who can win, who can go further in the competition, will get the glory.”

The Champions League is not the Turner Prize, as Guardiola emphasised. Neutrals were trapped between wanting to rhapsodise about Barcelona's play and a more calculating sense that they had tossed away a chance to humiliate Arsène Wenger's men. The profligacy of Zlatan Ibrahimovic especially in a lopsided first 15 minutes would have seemed ominous from a lesser team. Yet there is a majesty about Barcelona which convinced neutrals that Arsenal could not resist this beauty and would succumb in the end to a landslide.

Outcomes are not shaped by possession stats alone. By that measure the world and European club champions never dipped below a 62% share of the ball. For an hour they threatened to flood the stadium with goals. If we have learned anything about Wenger's side in this campaign, though, it is that they seldom stir until indignity hammers on their door. The risk of a mismatch being declared was averted when Theo Walcott made one of his lightning raids to reduce Barcelona's lead and then Cesc Fábregas turned on his alma mater to equalise from the penalty spot.

For the second night running a Premier League luminary hobbled off the field with his heroic status enhanced. Wayne Rooney's battle against Bayern Munich has been stopped half-way by his ankle injury and Fábregas was already suspended for Tuesday's trip to Catalonia when the act of saving the club he joined from the Barcelona academy caused a buckling of his right leg.

The carnage was high on all fronts. Barça have lost both first-choice centre-backs for next week's return leg. Gerard Piqué was cautioned for pulling Fábregas down and Carles Puyol was dismissed for felling the Camp Nou old boy in the 84th minute. A north-London optimist would say the pendulum swung decisively in Arsenal's favour with those two defensive suspensions and that Walcott and Fábregas have shown Barcelona to be susceptible to pressure. A realist would counter that Guardiola's gang are unlikely to admire their reflection in the mirror twice in a row. If they maintain their first-half effort for the whole game on Tuesday night, Arsenal could be crushed by the high priests of their own artistic doctrine.