Last night, I was at the Emirates Stadium to witness the reigning European champions FC Barcelona play a helpless Arsenal side off the pitch in what I can only describe as a footballing masterclass.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that introduction was written in 2016, when the terrific trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar put on a show against Arsene Wenger’s men. The truth, however, is even that great team never reached the levels of dominance Barça Femeni showed yesterday.
Arsenal’s women’s team are really good. They currently sit top of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League, where they regularly outclass their opposition in dazzling fashion. Basically, to call them one of Europe’s best sides wouldn’t be an exaggeration. They’re a great team.
Barcelona Femeni are the best team, and quite frankly it’s not very close. In both domestic competition and the Champions League, the side have played a combined 17 games, won all 17, scored 91 goals and conceded a mere four. If you ask head coach Jonatan Giráldez, they need to be more clinical in front of goal. Naturally.
Barcelona Femeni are pursuing perfection, and as a first time viewer on Thursday evening, what I witnessed was as close to it as I’ve seen in recent years. Sat in between two passionate Barça fans, I was left in complete awe at the clinic the Femeni put on in front of more than 12,000 people.
Most people around me were. The atmosphere around me was very pleasant, much to my surprise and enjoyment. Even as the home side fell to a 0-4 defeat – a score line that truthfully could’ve been double that. The fans cheered their side on proudly even after the final whistle, applauding Arsenal off the pitch.
Truthfully, they probably knew what they were up against beforehand. Barcelona had beaten Arsenal 4-1 in Spain in the first Group Stage meeting; this time around the Catalans didn’t even give them a consolation. Barça finished the game off with 73 percent possession and 20 shots on goal. Like Giráldez said, not efficient enough.
The star quality Barça possess is unquestionable. They lined up with 3 of this past year’s 5 Ballon D’Or finalists, including the winner of the award, Alexia Putellas. Putellas, alongside the brilliant Aitana Bonmatí in midfield, ran the show all night, in a manner Iniesta and Xavi would have been proud of.
Not since those two last donned the colours of the Blaugrana has a Barça side, men or women, dominated games like the Femeni do. I mentioned the possession, but the manner in which they swarmed the ball like a hive upon losing it was just as impressive. It was organized, it was effective and it was relentless. Some of the goals scored on the night weren’t even byproducts of brilliant play, but rather just wave after wave of pressure that Arsenal inevitably couldn’t cope with.
What will be most concerning for Arsenal is the fact that Barcelona probably had another level they could’ve reached, but what could they do? This Barça side will thrash almost anyone in their way. On the day, it was Arsenal. Seven months ago, it was Chelsea.
As a lover of the beautiful game, I can hand on heart say it has been a long time since I have been mesmerized by a footballing side the way I was by the Femeni last night. To this point, I have never really been a devoted viewer of women’s football, but the spectacle I witnessed truly left me wanting more.
And therein lies my lasting takeaway from last night. Barcelona Femeni are changing the game.
They are revolutionizing women’s European football in a way their male counterparts did theirs nearly a decade ago. Just like them, the impact the Femeni could have on how the women’s game is played would continue to improve the overall product tenfold as the years go on. The sport will grow and develop because of them.
For years, Barcelona were seen as the golden standard of world football. Led by the great Pep Guardiola, boasting the best players in the world, flooded with La Masia graduates and consistently demonstrating a footballing philosophy that made Barça, well, Barça.
Those days are long gone, but in the same week that the men’s side crashed out of the Champions League group stage for the first time in 20 years, the Femeni showed the world that there’s still some magic left in FC Barcelona.