Barcelona came in for some unfamiliar criticism back in Spain today, accused of lacking fighting spirit to match their superb technique after being taken down 2-1 by Arsenal. "There were two teams who needed the ball to play their game but there was only one ball, and the question came down as to how such a dilemma would unfold," said Santi Gimenez, a columnist in sports daily AS.
"Broadly, it unfolded like this: Barca had the ball but not the unbreakable spirit or faith that characterises wounded teams. And a wounded Englishman is very dangerous. And he knows how to fight back. And in the end strength overcame technique." Barca gave a lesson in technique up to the 65th minute, he said, "Arsenal gave one in courage from then on."
Spain's leading daily El Pais said Barcelona had let the game slip away little by little after the David Villa-Lionel Messi duo had given them a first-half lead. Even though Arsenal's goals came late, they played well and made an interesting come-back with dynamic, lively football, El Pais said.
"Wenger's boys are better and better footballers, they have definitively lost respect for Barcelona who yesterday were more administrative and less ambitious or, at least, more vulnerable and less punishing."
The top sports daily, Marca, praised both teams for a phenomenal game, saying that Arsenal played true to their attacking style. "On the other side, Barcelona gave us some extraordinary moments but missed a couple of great chances. Unusually: Messi missed them."
The result means Arsenal - thrashed 6-3 on aggregate by Barcelona in last year's quarter-finals - will carry a narrow lead into Camp Nou when the two sides meet in the second leg on 8 March.