When Diego Costa received a red card in Barcelona’s match against Atlético Madrid on Saturday, it became very clear that was not going to be a game for Arthur. Against a Colchonero team that was going to put nine men behind the ball and try to lock things up, it would take a quicker, faster, more skilled and dynamic player with an eye for goal to change the game. Malcom came on for Arthur in the second half, and the game changed.
Wednesday’s match against Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal will be the perfect game for the 22-year-old Brazilian, however. In fact, this is the game that might give us another glimpse of ‘Wembley Arthur’, the fearless and composed kid that absolutely dominated Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in this season’s group stage and gave us some serious flashbacks of Xavi in the 2011 Champions League Final.
That Arthur was playing in a perfect environment: a big game, which he loves, in Europe, in his first start, against an English team. You only need to watch one Premier League game a week that doesn’t involve Manchester City to realize that English teams don’t know the concept of tempo: they just play in one gear, the fastest one, and it’s an up-and-down mess with counter attack after counter attack, almost no midfield play and a lot of late goals that are a product of exhaustion from all the running and intensity.
Tottenham tried to play that same game against Barça, so Arthur just told the game “hey, calm down, you belong to me” and just dominated it. He wanted the ball at all times, and whenever Barça began to play at Spurs’ pace it was the Brazilian who calmed things down and forced Spurs to play at Barça’s tempo, which is more nuanced and requires more patience. Tottenham were too anxious and still tried to bring the insanity back, and that’s when Barça got the goals and won a big game in what is still one of their most impressive performances of the season.
After two years of horrible football under José Mourinho, United brough Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a simple mission: bring back Fergie Ball. The Red Devils are as English as ever now, and on Wednesday’s they’ll try to play like Spurs on steroids: they’ll press Barça early on, use the Old Trafford crowd’s energy to try and pick up the pace and force the visitors into the madness.
If the first 15-20 minutes are as chaotic as expected, that’s when Wembley Arthur needs to happen: the Brazilian needs to be on the ball, calm everyone down and allow the team to regroup and start to dominate. Arthur’s performance is an underrated aspect of this game, but it might just be as important as Lionel Messi’s or Gerard Piqué’s to Barça’s success at Old Trafford.
It’s a lot of pressure for a young man on his first season at Barça. But he passed a huge test with flying colors at Wembley, and there’s no doubt he can do the same at the Theatre of Dreams.