Messi v Arsenal: what Tottenham can learn

Lionel Messi tore Arsenal to shreds during the 2010 Champions League quarter finals. With Tottenham set to face Barcelona this week, we look at what Spurs can learn from his stunning performance eight years ago

When Barcelona take on Tottenham on 3 October, it won’t be the first time a North London club has come up against Lionel Messi with high expectations.

However, if the fate suffered by their neighbours Arsenal is anything to go by, they’ll know not to write off the Argentine under any circumstances.

Messi was kept quiet on his first appearance against the Gunners, a 2-2 draw at the Emirates in which Zlatan Ibrahimović scored both Barcelona goals, and the more optimistic members of the crowd might have dared to dream of an aggregate victory in the 2010 Champions League quarter-finals as a result.

This was their first mistake.

Arsenal’s team that night at Camp Nou wasn’t their strongest, with Cesc Fàbregas missing out through a broken leg (not that it had stopped him converting a penalty in the home game) and Robin van Persie also absent.

However, when stand-in striker Nicklas Bendtner handed the visitors an unlikely lead, there was hope. For two minutes.

Messi’s first was both the most eye-catching and, in retrospect, one of the more preventable. Just in retrospect, though.

When Mikaël Silvestre cut out Messi’s through-ball, he must have thought he was making a vital interception. A blink of an eye later, though, and the ball was whistling past both him and Manuel Almunis and into the Arsenal net.

It was a shot of ugly, venomous beauty, as if Messi was letting out his rage at failing to score in the first leg and fury at having not been involved four years earlier when Frank Rjkaard’s Barça came from behind to defeat Arsenal in the final.

The Gunners were going to pay, and he wasn’t going to stop there.

The second, a right-footed finish after Sergio Busquets got to a loose ball and instinctively knew where to look, was another second-phase goal which a more alert defence might have been able to deal with.

They might have still been coming to terms with the previous strike, though. After all, it can take more than 15 minutes to get your head straight after something like that. If that’s their excuse, we’re okay with it.

Arsenal knew Messi was dangerous before this game – he had, after all, decided the previous season’s final against Manchester United. However, having kept him out once, they might have considered themselves capable of doing it again.

The second goal left Arsenal playing catch-up – the last thing you want to be doing against Messi – and in a sense they had already lost once that was the case.

Gaël Clichy can carry some of the blame for playing Messi onside for the third, but only some of it.

After all, plenty of players in that position wouldn’t be able to turn it into what looks like the easiest goal of their career – certainly not with the pressure of being on a hat-trick, certainly not with the pressure of the Champions League knockout rounds upon him, and certainly not with such a nonchalant chipped finish that would be beyond most others when travelling at such pace.

The fourth was in one sense a formality by this stage – the game was over as a contest – but he still needed to hold off three Arsenal defenders before beating Almunia at the second attempt.

Plenty have scored hat-tricks including no goals as good as that, and yet it was arguably the weakest of Messi’s four that night.

Lionel Messi may be a little older and a little different to the player we saw tear Arsenal to shreds that night, and he might have missed out on a podium place in FIFA’s ‘The Best’ awards, but Spurs won’t be writing him off in any hurry.