Lionel Messi's masterclass proves that there is no way of stopping him

March 10, 2011 - 0:0

Eleven months after the misery of watching their team be destroyed by Lionel Messi's four goals, on Tuesday night the three thousand diehard visitors, stationed apparently halfway to Mars up on the top tier of the Nou Camp, saw him score but two. At this rate, the next time their club meets the Catalans in the Champions League the world's finest footballer will draw a blank.

Well, in the face of such a ruthless demonstration of genius, clutching at straws is the only strategy. Certainly Arsene Wenger had no better way of dealing with the diminutive Argentine.
He admitted as much before the match. If someone had come up with a methodology for negating him and his unerring ability to find the net, it would already have been done, the Arsenal boss reckoned. But 43 goals in all competitions this season suggests there isn't one.
Now, after the latest hapless and hopeless failure to corral him, the little man has 45. And counting.
The odd thing is, Messi started so slowly here. For the first fifteen minutes of the game he did not much more than wander round, nowhere near the ball.
The sleeves of his undershirt pulled down over his knuckles, he appeared wholly uninterested in the proceedings, like Fernando Torres at a Roy Hodgson testimonial.
The fact was, though static, he was hard at work, assessing where the spaces might form in the Arsenal backline. He was waiting, biding his time for what he knew was coming.
Because this is what the Argentine does best: he lurks. Sure, he also passes, runs, dribbles and shoots at astonishing speed.
But what defines him is the way he hangs about, trying not to be noticed as he snakes into dangerous positions, ready suddenly to burst into action, his fancy marmalade-coloured boots blurring, a smear of orange across the turf.
So it was that when the inevitable eventually came, Messi was there, poised and alert. Until injury time at the end of the first half, Arsenal had, by a measure of good fortune, managed to hold out; a Groundhog Day of endless defeat in the Nou Camp appeared as if it might be averted.
Harrying, blocking and tackling, tackling, tackling, the thin yellow line had held firm, maintaining the lead preciously won in London last month.
But then, just as the safety of the dressing room beckoned, there was a Messi-ignited explosion in the visitors' penalty area.
The tangerine-shod maestro suddenly constructed two yards of free space on the edge of the Gunners' defence and, latching on to a pass from Andres Iniesta, hared down on goal.
His first shot clipped Manuel Almunia, an early substitute for Wojciech Szczesny whose finger injury had added the time which Messi was now exploiting. Almunia could not get a strong enough hand on it and the ball broke to the Argentine, who hammered it into the goal.
And the thing was, his shot ended up in the exact same spot in the corner of the netting that he had found with each of the dozen practice efforts he had fired in during the warm up. Genius, it is clear, is best honed by the generous application of practice.
Not that, even then, the Arsenal fans were to be spared the horrible torture that comes from possibility. From up where the English masses were stationed it was difficult to judge the scale of the home players.
The press, however, had been afforded a privileged view of the hosts when they had filed through the media zone into their dressing room before the game.
They looked, as they walked by, as if they were on a school trip. As a group, they are so boyishly diminutive half of them would be refused admission to the faster rides at Alton Towers.
And - for all Wenger's embrace of football's higher principles - it was this simple physical deficiency of which Arsenal took advantage to score a goal early in the second half.
From a rare corner, Abou Diaby's height troubled the hosts so much, Sergio Busquets parried the ball off his shoulder into his own net.
For a moment up in the gods, that most horrible of emotions tantalised the visiting English: hope. ""Good old Arsenal"" filled the upper atmosphere.
Optimism, however, was eradicated five minutes on, when Robin van Persie was sent off for a pointless second yellow card.
It is hard enough keeping up with this Barcelona team with eleven men. With ten it is impossible.
Spaces opened up everywhere. When you give Barca space on a football pitch, they will belittle the most muscular opponent, never mind one trying to outplay them.
No longer just lurking, Messi seized the moment to run. Continuously. Inesta and Xavi, too, found another gear. And after Inesta scored a second to level the tie, the end was bound to come.
That it was Messi who applied the coup de grace was entirely appropriate. Addressing a penalty after Pedro was upended, he sauntered slowly, tantalisingly, to the ball, before planting it in the corner he so frequently finds.
You knew as he walked up to the ball, he was no more going to miss than Arsenal were going to complete the quadruple this season.
""Messi, Messi"" sang the Catalan hordes. As the masterclass unfolded before their eyes, even the Arsenal fans would have to agree with this: there really was nothing else to say.
(Source: Telegraph)