Football Features

What happened to the Arsenal team that beat Barcelona in 2011?

By Squawka News

Published: 21:12, 6 September 2020

Impressive strikes from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin gave Arsenal their first-ever victory against Barcelona, and proved that the Gunners could genuinely compete against their Spanish rivals. 

Wednesday, 16th February 2011. After finishing second in their group behind Shakhtar Donetsk, Arsenal were drawn against Barcelona in the second round of the Champions League and were set to face their Catalan rivals — managed by Pep Guardiola — at the Emirates in the first-leg.

The visitors gained an early advantage when David Villa’s first-half strike found the back of the net, silencing the home crowd. But as the Catalans continued to miss a handful of opportunities, Arsenal severely punished them with two late goals that sent the fans into elation, handing Arsene Wenger’s side the victory.

Wenger — whose excellent, positive substitutions forced his side to the memorable comeback — described the game as a “special night” and praised the attitude of his players. While Guardiola‘s side remained favourites to win the tie, Arsenal‘s tireless endeavour had proved too much for Barcelona, as the Gunners had successfully set-up a thrilling second-leg.

The less said about what happened at the Camp Nou — Barcelona won 3-1 and Van Persie was sent off — the better, but regardless of the Gunners once again crashing out of the tournament at the hands of Barca, who went on to win the competition, the side that grabbed a victory in 2011 deserve their plaudits.

So with that in mind, we’ve taken a look at where the 2011 Arsenal side that beat Barcelona are now.

Starting XI:

Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

Career path: Arsenal, Brentford (loan), Roma (loan), Juventus

Current club: Juventus

Having come of age during a loan spell at Brentford, Szczesny looked like he was going to become one of the Arsenal greats, but despite a number of excellent performances, he didn’t quite cut it. After a brilliant start to life in north London, he had a disastrous 2014/15 season that involved several individual errors and off-field incidents – being dropped after getting caught smoking in the showers after a game against Southampton.

“Back at that time I was smoking regularly and the boss knew it very well,” he told the Arsenal Nation podcast recently.

“He just didn’t want anybody smoking in the dressing rooms and I knew that also. Because of the emotion of the game, I had a cigarette after the game when the team was still in.

“I went in the corner of the showers, so it was at the other end of the dressing room and nobody could see me, and I lit one up.

“Somebody saw me, it wasn’t even the boss himself, and just reported it back to the boss. I saw him a couple of days later, he asked me if that was true and I said, ‘Yes’. He fined me and that was the end of it.”

Arsenal eventually kept faith in his David Ospina – due to good form – and signed Petr Cech, leading the Polish international to be loaned out to Roma.

Szczesny then moved to Juventus in 2017, where he has now begun his reign as the long-term successor to legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon. He has also caught headlines by dubbing himself the best goalkeeper in the world for getting game time ahead of Buffon at Juventus and Alisson at Roma

Right-back: Emmanuel Eboue

Career path: ASEC Mimosas, Beveren, Arsenal, Galatasaray, Sunderland

Current club: Retired

An Arsenal cult hero, Emmanuel Eboue spent seven years with the Gunners and was part of the side that got to the Champions League final in the 2005/06 season. The marauding right-back’s unorthodox style didn’t quite make him one of the finest technical players they’ve ever seen at the Emirates, but his attitude, commitment and desire swiftly turned the Ivorian into a fan favourite.

After 214 appearances for Arsenal, he left the club for Galatasaray. A total of 102 games in the Turkish league later, he was released by the club before a short spell at Sunderland in 2016.

Eboue made headlines in late 2017 when his financial struggles were made public. Following this, he was offered a coaching role with Galatasaray’s U-14s.

Centre-back: Laurent Koscielny

Career path: Guingamp, Tours, Lorient, Arsenal, Bordeaux

Current club: Bordeaux

The last member of this squad to leave Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny called time on his Gunners career in 2019 by moving to Bordeaux — a decision that was marred by the slightly controversial nature of his unveiling, taking off an Arsenal top to reveal Bordeaux.

But that shouldn’t take away from an Arsenal career that spanned over 350 appearances, including that night against Barcelona in 2011 when Koscielny handled Lionel Messi with ease (and there aren’t many people who can say they’ve done that).

Centre-back: Johan Djourou

Career path: Arsenal, Birmingham City (loan), Hannover 96 (loan), Hamburg, Antalyaspor, SPAL, FC Sion, Neuchatel Xamax

Current club: Free agent

An Arsenal academy product that clearly had undeniable ability, but who struggled – mainly through injury – to successfully cement himself in the first-team. After being loaned out to Birmingham City in 2007, he returned to the Emirates the following year and made a handful of appearances, as Wenger’s side suffered from a number of injury problems.

His rare start against Barcelona could’ve marked the beginning of Djourou’s first-team career with Arsenal, but instead, the club signed Per Mertesacker the following summer and he struggled to get many chances in the side.

Djourou was loaned to Hannover in 2013 before signing for Hamburg permanently in 2014, making 104 appearances for the club before signing with Antalyaspor in 2017.

He then had a six-month spell at SPAL before mutually terminating his contract in January 2019. Djourou returned to action with FC Sion in 2020 but it did not last long, with the Swiss centre-back part of a group of players released by the club due to the recent coronavirus crisis. Djourou is still a free agent.

Left-back: Gael Clichy

Career path: Cannes, Arsenal, Manchester City, Istanbul Basaksehir

Current club: Istanbul Basaksehir

One of Wenger’s exceptional captures, the French coach noticed Gael Clichy’s talents while he was playing for Cannes in Ligue 1, aged 17. He went on to become one of the finest full-backs to ever play at the Emirates, making 264 appearances for the club.

After winning the 2003/04 Premier League and 2005 FA Cup, he surprisingly moved to Manchester City in 2011, continuing his impressive form. The Frenchman won two more English titles with the Sky Blues, making 203 total appearances before moving to Istanbul Basaksehir in 2017, where he provided the assist for their final-day winning goal which sealed the Turkish Super Lig title.

Central midfielder: Alex Song

Career path: Bastia, Arsenal, Charlton Athletic (loan), Barcelona, West Ham United (loan), Rubin Kazan, Sion

Current club: Free agent

Alex Song developed immensely after signing for Arsenal from Bastia in 2006. Wenger gently eased the towering midfielder into the first-team set-up and turned him from a promising talent into a top-class playmaker. His relationship with Robin van Persie was a joy to watch in the 2011-12 season, and his excellent performances earned him a move to Barcelona the following year.

It didn’t quite work out for Song in Spain, as after just 65 appearances (mainly off the bench) he moved back to England, signing for West Ham United for two seasons before moving to Rubin Kazan in 2016. After a couple of seasons in Russia, he moved to Swiss side Sion on a free in 2018 but, like Djourou, was released this year.

Central midfielder: Jack Wilshere

Career path: Arsenal, Bolton Wanderers (loan), Bournemouth (loan), West Ham

Current club: West Ham

After spending 17 years at the club, Jack Wilshere waved goodbye to Arsenal in the summer of 2018. Leaving on a free transfer to West Ham, his transfer signified the end of an era for Arsenal fans.

The naturally gifted midfielder competed excellently against Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in their 2-1 win in 2011, but his progression suffered due to multiple injuries afterwards.

The 27-year-old played 197 times for the Gunners, only grabbing 14 goals.

He spent a season on loan with Bournemouth before signing permanently with West Ham in 2018, but injuries have once again hindered his career.

Central midfielder: Cesc Fabregas

Career path: Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, AS Monaco

Current club: AS Monaco

One of the most intelligent midfielders to have ever played for Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas played an instrumental role in the Gunners’ midfield, showing his class against Barcelona during their 2-1 victory.

After eight years at the club and over 300 appearances, he moved to Barca and won La Liga. After three seasons in Spain, he returned to England and signed for Chelsea, where he won the Premier League twice. In January in 2019, he moved to AS Monaco for what proved to be a short reunion with then-manager Thierry Henry, who was swiftly sacked. But the Spaniard remains in Monaco.

Attacking midfielder: Samir Nasri

Career path: Marseille, Arsenal, Manchester City, Sevilla (loan), Antalyaspor, West Ham, Anderlecht

Current club: Free agent

On the night, Nasri played the crucial assist for Andrey Arshavin’s winner.

Another player who impressed at Arsenal after moving from Marseille in 2008, Samir Nasri linked up well with Song and Fabregas, playing 125 games for the club. Following his best season in an Arsenal shirt, he moved to Manchester City where he went on to win two Premier League titles.

The Frenchman went on loan to Sevilla in 2016 for a season before moving to Antalyaspor in 2017. Having completed a doping ban, Nasri signed West Ham and assisted the Hammers’ winner over Arsenal on his league debut for the club. However, his short term-deal was not extended and Nasri linked up with former Man City teammate Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht for an eight-game spell before once again finding himself without a club.

Attacking midfielder: Theo Walcott

Career path: Southampton, Arsenal, Everton

Current club: Everton

Surprisingly, Theo Walcott turned 30 this year. He played 397 games for Arsenal and scored 108 goals, as well as winning the FA Cup on two occasions.

Constant injury problems and a lack of first-team opportunities with the Gunners led the England international to move to Everton – where his form has been inconsistent — in the 2018 January transfer window for a fee of £20m, signing a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Striker: Robin van Persie

Career path: Feyenoord, Arsenal, Manchester United, Fenerbahce, Feyenoord

Current club: Retired

One of the most lethal strikers to have ever played for the Gunners, Robin van Persie scored 132 goals in 278 games before signing for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2012. He went on to win the title during his time at Old Trafford and his goals in the 2012-13 season were crucial to the Red Devils’ success.

The Dutchman scored 58 goals in 105 games for United before moving to Fenerbahce in 2015.

He later completed a return to boyhood club Feyenoord in 2018 and has now retired from football.

Subs:

Manuel Almunia

Position: Goalkeeper

Career path: Osasuna, Cartagonova (loan), Sabadell, Celta Vigo, Eibar (loan), Recreativo (loan), Albacete (loan), Arsenal, West Ham United (loan), Watford

Current club: Retired

Manuel Almunia spent eight years with the Gunners that were filled with ups and downs. Every strong performance seemed to be followed by a spectacular blunder, as Almunia struggled to prove himself as a true number one.

After a loan spell at West Ham, he moved to Watford in 2012, where he played over 70 league games. He retired in 2014 due to a heart problem that was picked up during his medical with Serie A side Cagliari.

Kieran Gibbs

Position: Full-back

Career path: Arsenal, Norwich City (loan), West Brom

Current club: West Brom

Gibbs signed for West Brom in the summer of 2017 after 13 years at Arsenal, having made 230 appearances while scoring six goals, and remains with the Baggies following their promotion back to the Premier League.

Andrey Arshavin

Position: Inside-forward

Career path: Zenit St Petersburg, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg, Kuban Krasnodar, FC Kairat

Current club: Retired

His goal proved to be the winner against Barcelona, but Andrey Arshavin struggled after leaving the club in 2013. His charging runs and excellent finishing were wonderful to watch and made him popular at certain points among Arsenal fans, notably his four-goal haul against Liverpool; in fact, he found the back of the net five times against the Reds during his time in England – the most he scored against a single club across his career.

His poor form at Zenit St Petersburg saw him move to Kuban Krasnodar in 2015, but he only lasted one season before moving to Kazakhstan side FC Kairat. Arshavin announced his retirement from football in December 2018.

Sebastian Squillaci

Position: Centre-back

Career path: Toulon, Monaco, Ajaccio (loan), Lyon, Sevilla, Arsenal, Bastia

Current club: Retired

Just the 39 appearances for Sebastian Squillaci during his time at Arsenal, yet after leaving the club in 2013, he moved to French side Bastia, where he played for four years. He retired in November 2017.

Tomas Rosicky

Position: Centre-midfield

Career path: Sparta Prague, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Sparta Prague

Current club: Retired

A true Arsenal legend, Tomas Rosicky’s career at the Emirates spanned 10 years before moving to Czech side Sparta Prague in 2016, where he spent one season before making the decision to hang up his boots.

Denilson

Position: Centre-midfield

Career path: Sao Paulo, Arsenal, Sao Paulo, Al-Wahda, Cruzeiro (loan), Botafogo-SP, Sliema Wanderers

Current club: Sliema Wanderers

Denilson had so much potential and looked to be breaking into the first-team before moving back to his homeland. Now 31, he left the Emirates in 2013 after making 153 appearances for the club. After going out on loan to Sao Paulo before signing permanently in 2013 he moved to Abu Dhabi side Al-Wahda, where he made 29 appearances.

Denilson returned to Sao Paolo to play for Botafogo-SP but was released in April last year over fitness concerns. He now finds himself in Malta with Sliema Wanderers.

Nicklas Bendtner

Position: Striker

Career path: Arsenal, Birmingham City (loan), Sunderland (loan), Juventus (loan), Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Rosenborg, FC Copenhagen, Tårnby FF (+32)

Current club: Tårnby FF’s +32 team

Niklas Bendtner eventually left Arsenal in 2014 after spending most of his time out on loan. The towering striker scored 45 goals in 171 games during his time in north London and now bizarely plays for Tårnby FF’s over 32 team after spells with Nottingham Forest and Wolfsburg, Rosenborg and FC Copenhagen. He still has a strong cult following who continue to use the moniker “Lord Bendtner” in reference to him.

Barcelona XI:

Victor Valdes
Dani Alves
Gerard Pique
Eric Abidal
Maxwell
Sergio Busquets
Xavi
Andres Iniesta 
David Villa
Pedro
Lionel Messi

Bench:

Jose Manuel Pinto
Gabriel Milito 
Adriano
Javier Mascherano
Seydou Keita
Ibrahim Afellay 
Bojan