Barca bask in total footy glow
Theo Walcott said after Wednesday night's game that watching Barca from the bench was a bit like watching a game played on Playstation - it was like listening to the wide-eyed ballboy that Sven took with him to the World Cup in 2006.
He's been around a while now has Theo and it might be time to stop pinching himself and get on with the job of being a very dangerous footballer. Clearly the lad could run Sea The Stars close as long as the horse was given a start. Maxwell, the surreally-named left-back (is he a butler part-time or summat?) looked like he was running up a down escalator by comparison.
Why do we Brits get quite so awe-struck by Barca? It seems ironic to me that Wenger has spent the season complaining about how teams are being too aggressive against his side and yet here the Gunners were up against a team that played the Arsenal way, only about five times better and Arsenal desperately needed to get amongst them.
I reckon if Tony Pulis had given the tactical team-talk they might have had more of a chance. Instead Guardiola's team left Arsenal's players looking like a particularly tormented bunch of toddlers learning the rudiments of piggy-in-the-middle.
Alex Song, Bacary Sagna and William Gallas do a bit more chasing Photograph: Getty
For the first 25 minutes, Almunia kept Arsenal in it. Every time they lost possession, the Blue Bell echoed to the sound of empathetic Teessiders fearing for the mental health of Arsenal's back four. When Ibrahimovic scored, someone said there was a Song playing but it wasn't within earshot of Ibra on either occasion.
Somehow the Gooners wrestled a draw out of the game, having been granted one of them penalty-kicks Barca owed an English club after the semi-final last year (Chelsea fans must be spitting roubles) but in the return leg, they simply have to keep it tighter, and press the ball - something which the Catalans do very well. Barca are anything but show-ponies. Guardiola was one of them give 'n go Hargreaves-types and his team has that spirit in abundance.
It's hard to see Wenger's men turning it round. His team is running out of Fabri-gas. Cesc was indulged at the Emirates, and sure, he's a wonderful player, but even Eboue can contribute more than a 40% fit Fabregas.
There's a touch of the total football of the 70s Dutch about Barca at the moment. You never feel that any one of their eleven would embarrass themselves if caught having to do something inventive in an unusual part of the park. It is that which distinguishes them from your regular British football team. We discourage the ability to think on or indeed with the feet in this country.
Barca were able to shift from a first half of pinging it about quickly to using a longer pass to hit the space behind the defence in the second (and at times Ibrahimovic must have thought he was strolling through the fields of some remote National Park). In other words, their brains were engaged.
Our lads get programmed from the moment they first devolve from a swarm of new-togged bees chasing the ball around into summat a bit more organised, but here's a template for every school side in this country and I think we'll all recognise it.
Goalkeeper: ideally a weird loner of a kid with a rural background who likes climbing trees and digging potatoes.
Right-back: an unhinged lad with big thighs and psycopathic tendencies.
Left-back: any lad who can use his left-peg.
Centre-backs: a pairing of the tallest lad in the year and the lad who can kick it farthest (he can also take the goal-kicks).
Central midfielders: ideally a combination of (a) a tiny, manic, relentless lad with a bad haircut who can chase a ball back and forth like a Jack Russell and (b) a fey, tall lad who reads Alfred Lord Tennyson, does water-colours, tackles like tissue paper but appreciates the art of the game. He cries if the ball hits him but no one can curl a twenty-yarder into the top corner like him.
Right-winger: the fastest lad in the school.
Left-winger: a lad who could be quite good if you knew where to play him.
Front-two: the second-biggest lad in the school and the one with the pointiest elbows; plus a greedy little oik who's never looked to see how the rest of the world is coping with life in all his born days. He never shares his sweets, his Mam never offers a lift to any of the others and he scores a hat-trick every other week so you put up with it.
Sub: the coach's son, who's a bit rubbish but has to be involved.
The class show-off fails to endear himself to his school-mates Photograph: Getty
Now of course your Messis and your Rooneys rise above such narrow considerations, but generally that's your English school team in a nutshell. It's position first and ability to use the damn ball second.
Finally, a question - could we sue Man U if Rooney doesn't get to the World Cup? Can Spain sue Arsenal over Cesc's crocked appearance? I mean that's what I hate about these club sides - they'll keep playing our international players until they're bound to get injured. Not one of them thinks about how they're jeopardising our World Cup chances! It makes my blood boil.*
*Yes I know the clubs pay the wages.