At full-time, the scene was depressingly familiar. A disappointing defeat at home followed by...
At full-time, the scene was depressingly familiar. A disappointing defeat at home followed by a decent showing on the road, and in the end Arsenal had nothing to show for it.
After three delightful goals from Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, Barcelona were through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and Arsenal were out in the round of 16 yet again.
This marks the sixth straight season the Gunners have departed Europe's top club competition at the same stage, and although he can take some positives from this showing, manager Arsene Wenger will undoubtedly face further pressure from all quarters as his side's season founders in mid-March.
One clear bright spot, however, was the play of Nigerian youngster Alex Iwobi. The midfielder made his first Champions League start at the tender age of 19 and appeared not at all intimidated by the spectacle. Not even the imposing atmosphere of the Camp Nou could put Iwobi off his game, and that should provide a bit of consolation following another poor result.
Composed in possession and always eager to attack, Iwobi impressed throughout his 73 minutes on the pitch. The youngster combined frequently with Mesut Ozil and especially Danny Welbeck, showing good passing and movement in the final third.
His best came early in the second period, coincidentally as Arsenal enjoyed their best spell of the match.
In the 49th minute, Alexis Sanchez laid off for Iwobi, whose shot deflected into the side netting, winning a corner. Thirteen minutes later, the Nigerian latched on to a pass from Hector Bellerin and pulled back for Sanchez, who saw his shot blocked.
Then, shortly before he made way for Olivier Giroud, Iwobi slotted through to Welbeck, who fired an early shot off the crossbar from a tight angle. With more precise finishing, Iwobi might have scored a goal and assisted another. As it was, he'll have to be content with an encouraging performance on the biggest of stages.
"It's something a 19 year-old will always dream of (playing in the Nou Camp)," Iwobi said, per BBC Sport. "It was an amazing experience and hopefully I will have more of these in the future."
|Iwobi was delighted to have played his first champions league game despite the loss. Photo via Yahoo Sports.|
That will certainly be the case if Iwobi continues his development. And that is a rare bit of good news for Wenger, who will be searching for any positives following a fifth defeat in Arsenal's last seven matches in all competitions. Following all the despair over another season of unrealized ambition in north London, Iwobi represents a kernel of hope, though one the Gunners will have to nurture carefully.
His Uncle, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, a premier league great who played for Bolton Wanderers was in the stands and watched him play and was very impressed. If he can build on this performance, he’s surely on course to surpass his uncle’s success who burst onto the scene quite late in his career.
So happy watching Alex Iwobi (nephew) on the big stage.. I'm very much impressed with his performance.— Jay-Jay Okocha (@IAmOkocha) March 16, 2016
Barring the unlikeliest of turnarounds in the Premier League, Arsenal have little to play for this spring, apart from a top-four place and another season of Champions League football. For supporters, then, watching Iwobi's progression could become a welcome diversion from all the negativity.