Pep Guardiola hails brilliant Barcelona
Pep Guardiola described Barcelona's supremely dominant first-half performance against Arsenal as "the best 45 minutes" the Catalans have produced during his reign.
A thrilling encounter ended 2-2 at Emirates Stadium in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, but Manuel Almunia had to be at his best in the first half to deny, amongst others, Xavi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Barcelona enjoyed 71% possession and produced a succession of excellent chances.
Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic then put the visitors in firm control but Arsenal responded when Theo Walcott beat Victor Valdes following his introduction as a substitute and Cesc Fabregas scored a penalty to make it 2-2.
Despite seeing his side loosen their grip on the tie, Guardiola could only admire the flowing football that Barcelona, inspired by midfield playmaker Xavi, produced against an Arsenal side renowned for their own aesthetic quality.
"Last season we won many prizes, but never played away in the Champions League like we did here," Guardiola said. "We took the ball and never allowed them to play.
"It was the best 45 minutes since I became a coach. Against Bayern Munich [in the Champions League quarter-final] last season we had four chances and scored four goals, but this was the best 45 minutes my team have played.
"We've given a good image of how football should be played and I'm proud of my team. My team's performance was good and I will sleep okay. We created many chances and it's just a pity because we had a chance to take a bigger step towards the semi-final.
"We could have won, but could have lost as well. But everyone who came to the stadium and watched the game will have enjoyed it, which is the point. We play football because we want to give happiness to people.
"It's a big mistake to be defensive. It's more risky not to take risks. Always you have to attack. If you're winning 2-0, you have to try for 3-0. That's what I've tried to put in the heads of the players from the first day I met them until the day I stop being their coach."
While Arsenal are ruing the loss of Cesc Fabregas and William Gallas, potentially for the remainder of the season, not to mention a calf injury sustained by Andrei Arshavin, Barcelona will also be depleted for the second leg as both Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol will be suspended, the latter due to a red card.
Guardiola is not content to rest on an advantage secured by virtue of the away goals rule though, and has instructed his team to attempt to overwhelm Arsenal at Camp Nou.
"The second leg will be much harder in terms of the chances we will have, but my orders will be 'attack, attack'," Guardiola said. "It will be more difficult because Pique and Puyol will not be there.
"We have a good chance to qualify for the next round. They scored two goals, but this is football. We're happy with the result as we were away from home, but we should have killed off the tie. Only teams who can win will get the glory."