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Arsenal Women 1 - Barcelona 4: soundly beaten

Turns out the Champions League holders are quite good!

FC Barcelona v Arsenal WFC: Group C - UEFA Women’s Champions League Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal suffered their first loss of the season and first under Jonas Eidevall, falling 4-1 to Barcelona away in the Champions League. The loss also snapped a 9-match winning streak for the Gunners. Barcelona were clearly the better side for most if not all of the match, and they’re the best side in Europe right now by a decent margin.

The Gunners were going to need a fantastic performance and a bit of luck to get a result today, and they got neither. Jonas Eidevall set the team up to defend very deep in the first half, which worked until it didn’t, and when they pushed the line further up in the second half, they were beaten in behind. I say “worked until it didn’t” because to successfully defend deep, everybody needs to be switched on, all match. That’s really hard to do. Barcelona’s opening goal came in part because Kim Little fell asleep for a split second and got beat to a rebound.

Arsenal also got no help from the referees. The Gunners were twice flagged on very close offside calls that would have otherwise seen Katie McCabe and then Viv Miedema in on goal. The first two Barcelona goals looked equally close to being offside, but the flag did not go up. That’s the way the cookie crumbles — sometimes you get the close calls, sometimes you don’t. And for what it’s worth, the two sides committed the same number of fouls in the match, but Arsenal saw five yellow cards to Barcelona’s one.

That said, the refereeing was not the reason Arsenal lost today, and it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Barcelona were better.

The starting attacking trio of Katie McCabe, Viv Miedema, and Beth Mead did very little of note. Kim Little also struggled on the ball and going forward. Much of that is due to Barcelona’s strong press — they don’t give you much time and space on the ball anywhere on the pitch. But that quartet also, for whatever reason, did not have the physicality needed for today’s match, which is a bit odd because Katie McCabe is usually a pest, Kim Little doesn’t back down, and Viv Miedema can more than hold her own physically.

Arsenal looked much better once Nikita Parris, Tobin Heath, Jordan Nobbs, and Caitlin Foord came on, in large part because they went toe-to-toe with Barca’s physical midfield and defenders. The Gunners only goal of the match came off a beautifully taken free kick from Tobin Heath that Frida Maanum bodied into the net. Arsenal won that free kick because the second wave of attackers were able to get on the ball into the attacking third, apply a bit of pressure, and had a bit more bite in pressuring Barcelona’s defenders.

As I’ve said, a result was a tall ask for the Gunners. I don’t dislike Jonas Eidevall’s setup to start the match, but I didn’t love it either. It seems like he was hoping to get deeper into the match on level terms or down just a goal and then rely on his second wave of players to snatch a goal late-on. That’s fine if you can get into the second half with the score close, but Arsenal were down 2 at the break and 3 shortly after the second half started. I’m not sure there was a better game plan available. If Arsenal had been more open, which they were in the second half, they would have been exposed on the break (which is precisely what happened).

It’s also important to remember that Jonas Eidevall is still getting used to his charges. The players are still learning each other’s tendencies and a new manager’s tatics. Arsenal have a wealth of attacking talent that Eidevall has to figure out the best way to combine and deploy. That takes time. And it’s going to get exposed against the best team in the world in the hardest fixture of the group stage.

I’m looking forward to the adjustments Eidevall makes for the return fixture with Barcelona. I think the match will look quite different. And hey, Barca beat Chelsea 4-0 in the final last season. The Gunners managed a goal, so I’m counting that as a win.

The Gunners take on Everton at the weekend.