Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gets 5/10 as Arsenal defense does well
Despite a strong defensive performance, Arsenal succumbed to a 2-0 loss to Barcelona in their Champions League round of 16 first leg. It says something about Barcelona's quality that Arsenal could put in a very strong performance and still be comprehensively beaten.
The first half was a tightly fought affair, with Arsenal working hard to get men behind the ball and contain Barcelona. They had a couple opportunities on the break but could not make the most of them. However, the second half was more open, and that spelled trouble for Arsenal. When the Gunners overcommitted, they were punished by a brilliant Barcelona counterattack involving Luis Suarez, Neymar and finally Lionel Messi.
The second goal owed much to Mathieu Flamini, who came off the bench to concede a penalty almost immediately. Messi duly tucked it away for his second of the night.
Arsenal now need a miracle of the greatest proportions to progress. They would arguably be better served by focusing on domestic matters and a more realistic chance of silverware.
Player Ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Petr Cech, 8 -- As ever, Cech emanated calm throughout this match. He delivered a huge moment at the start of the second half, when he sprung from his line to deny Neymar at close range. He'll be disappointed to his streak of never conceding against Messi over and will justifiably feel he did not deserve to be on the losing side.
DF Hector Bellerin, 8 -- What a huge night this must have been for the player facing the club that reared him. But he did not seem overawed by the occasion. His runs forward were as energetic and enterprising as ever, and he did well to cope with the overlapping threat of Jordi Alba. One tackle on Neymar inside the penalty area was particularly eye-catching.
DF Per Mertesacker, 7 -- Had Gabriel Paulista been fit, it's possible Mertesacker would not have started this match. The Brazilian appeared to have usurped him in the pecking order a few weeks ago, with many observers believing that was partially with this fixture in mind. Gabriel's pace seems a more obvious match for Barcelona than Mertesacker's ponderous style. Although there will be some who question his position in the opponents' half for Barca's breakaway goal, he largely acquitted himself well.
DF Laurent Koscielny, 8 -- The Frenchman showed how he has become one of the best centre-backs in Europe. His ability to nip in ahead of attacks and steal the ball away is second to none. Although he won't have enjoyed being nutmegged by Messi, there's no great indignity in that.
DF Nacho Monreal, 8 -- The Spaniard was faced with arguably the toughest task in world football: trying to contain Messi. It didn't get any easier when he was booked for a late tackle on Ivan Rakitic early on. Nevertheless, he turned in a typically rugged display.
MF Francis Coquelin, 7 -- Wenger must be so delighted that Coquelin was back in time to start this game. Without him, Arsenal's back four can look very exposed. However, the Frenchman patrolled the area between midfield and defense with typical vigilance.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 7 -- In some respects, it was a gamble to go with Ramsey in the middle alongside Coquelin. He's not a natural holding player and could easily have been dragged out of position by Barcelona's passing game. However, he showed a surprising degree of discipline to help protect the defense when required. Not a player renowned for his defensive ability, he did produce one brilliant block to deny Messi.
MF Mesut Ozil, 6 -- As a former Real Madrid player, Ozil would have been particularly keen to achieve a positive result. However, this was not his best night. Although he was as elegant on the ball as ever, he could not find a way to leave his imprint on the game.
FW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 5 -- If there has been one constant criticism of Oxlade-Chamberlain in his time at Arsenal, it has been a lack of end of product. That was in evidence once again, as he allowed two good first-half opportunities to pass him by. First, he shot tamely at the goalkeeper after Bellerin's effort deflected into his path. Then he wasted a good chance for a breakaway on the right by dribbling directly into Javier Mascherano. He was withdrawn at the start of the second half after failing to recover from an injury acquired when he clattered into the Argentine.
FW Alexis Sanchez, 6 -- There's no questioning Alexis' desire. He always works hard, and against his former club, he seemed more fired up than ever. However, his game simply isn't clicking at the moment, and his form is a real concern for Arsenal as they approach the run-in.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 -- Arsenal worked hard defensively from front to back, and Giroud was no exception. That's not to suggest he didn't pose an attacking threat: A brilliant save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen was all that prevented his header from giving Arsenal a second-half lead. However, he did blow one great chance to give the Gunners a goal when he chose to pass when well-placed to shoot.
FW Theo Walcott, 5 -- He came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain (50) but could not make inroads against Jordi Alba.
FW Danny Welbeck, NR -- He replaced Giroud too late to earn a rating (73) but made a decent impression. One clever knockdown almost found Ramsey in the penalty area, but a block denied him.
MF Mathieu Flamini, NR -- He was introduced as a replacement for Coquelin (82) and immediately gave away a penalty. Useless.