Cesc Fabregas has only been at Barcelona for a week, but he’s continued to tweet in English and follow Arsenal as the club’s biggest fan. Throughout his protracted transfer, his remained unwaiveringly professional. It’s remarkable given his position bewteen the two clubs: first, he could have easily criticized Arsenal’s failings, and second, never uttered a negative word against Barcelona, whose behavior throughout the transfer was far from exemplary.
Further, while most players have a kind word for their former club following the official signing with their new club, this official statement is often the last to be uttered and life is completely immersed into the present and future. This is another example of the necessity of the footballers’ compartmentalization of consciousness and memory. Whether it’s a poor result or a transfer, the past is sliced off as if it no longer exists. Fabregas is unique in that he has clearly immersed himself into Barcelona, while continuing to identify with Arsenal. It is equally interesting that no one is criticizing him for it, or telling him to stop.
Arsenal’s commitment to play Barcelona’s game was a risky strategy, but in all likelihood was the only one to pursue.
Robin van Persie celebrates equalizer with Arséne Wenger. A rare moment of public affection indicative of meaning and importance the match has for the team.
Only on the surface can the luck of the draw account for Arsenal having to face Barcelona in the Champions League unnamed knockout round. Without the quarter- or semi- to measure respectability, there is something ignoble about the generic, but consequential defeat.
Certainly the rule that teams from the same league cannot face each other at this stage of the tournament—four of the eight are Premier League teams—raised the probability of meeting them, those godly ones who don’t even have to be angry to defeat you.
This would have been irrelevant if Arsenal hadn’t compounded the chances by finishing second in the group stage. Bubbling balls ejected from a large clear vessel do not expose the cruelty of chance. Drawing Barcelona was also of Arsenal’s own doing. Their poor run of form through the latter matches of the group stage, peaking with a full-blown hamstring injury in the mind at Sporting Braga, was a display of free will far more determining than the whim of chance outcomes.
Two years running in the Champions League, and three of the last six Champions League knockout rounds, Arsenal will have faced Barcelona in a knockout round. For Arsenal, the results don’t look to be heading in the right direction—first the 2006 final, then the 2010 quarterfinal, and now possibly the round of 16. Arsenal’s pathologies seasonally recur and flare like bad allergies. Facing Barcelona again gives Arsenal another opportunity to cast out the demons or repeat traumatic experience. Arséne Wenger does not flinch from any challenge; when enshrouded in the belief zone he invites it. Maybe some part of them wanted to finish the group stage in second.
Witnessing the ideal has its drawbacks.
Barcelona just beat Real Sociedad 5—0. Any surprise there? After beating Real Madrid by the same score two weeks prior, one could almost safely claim that the season was over. Exciting, ethereal Barcelona would be before, and in the end, just as dull. Instead there's a hyper-focused attention to the present moment of each game in search for signs of a wobble, a hairline fracture, a letdown, some hint of desublimation. But when could it happen? The effort to sustain these heights is put in terms of mental strength, the internal management of individual and team requires dialog and reflection. Barcelona still has to tell themselves that they can do it.
Shaky legs can’t happen of their own doing. Osasuna was next. They fit some criteria of foil: unassuming; a good home record; and the feel of soft relegating sand underfoot. Osasuna could show up with stiff hair and scrappiness. In turn, Barcelona could have looked beyond them to a thorny Rubin Kazan, last year’s Champions League troublemakers. A club from the coldest climes, much colder than a cold day at Stoke, Ruben Kazan had become masters of the draw against them. But there was no letdown, not against sleepy Osasuna.
This year’s Clássico marked the thirteenth league game of the season and Barcelona were now 11-1-1. The Mourinho-effect, those preternatural and incessant waves of light and sound, carried an additional intensity into the fixture. Two games, so highly anticipated that one wonders if the other thirty-six matter beyond their role in delaying gratification.