Beatem by the better team but not before they were beaten by an inept referee.
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I feel it is important to begin this piece with a disclaimer so as to avoid any allegations of bias or ill feeling, even though I would stress I have no affiliation with either side. Arsenal deserved to lose to Barcelona, that is a fact. However what is also an undeniable fact is that they did not deserve to lose in the manner they did and that was down in no small part to referee Massimo Busacca’s very poor performance.
Arsenal went into the match with the added boost of having crucial performers Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie back in the starting eleven, little could anyone have guessed that for differing reasons both players would have an adverse affect on the game as a whole.
Arsene Wenger knew that in order to have any chance of preventing Barcelona from scoring, and that was clearly key for the North London club if they were to edge into the last eight of the Champions League, they would have to defend manfully as a team and whilst the pressure from the Catalan side was relentless the Gunners pretty much manage to stem the tide for 45+ minutes.
Arsenal had already lost keeper Wojciech Szczesny early on but replacement Manuel Almunia was looking inspired as the Spaniard impressed many and may have either allayed the certainty of his summer departure from the Emirates or promoted himself nicely for a move to a La Liga side next summer.
It’s true that the back four was creaking under wave after wave of incessant intelligent attacking from the home side, with Leo Messi seemingly working his way to an operatic crescendo but the downfall was very much self imposed. Prior to that downfall though Laurent Koscielny once again showed that in so many ways he is not a big game player. He lacked composure and the lack of effective alternatives to the former Lorient centre back can be charted back to Wenger’s insistence on not bringing in reinforcements in January.
Captain Cesc Fabregas needlessly attempted a back heel at the edge of the box and Barcelona was clinical in their punishment. Andres Iniesta slid a pass through to Leo Messi and the Argentine deftly chipped the advancing Almunia and smashed the volley home for a half-time lead.
Fabregas’s mistake should not be downplayed, the timing was crucial and the error so easily avoidable that is must have led to Wenger pulling off a Fergie style hairdryer treatment in the dressing room.
The second half required Arsenal to find a goal but that seemed improbable and any goal was only going to arrive from a set piece and lo and behold salvation arrived via an unfortunate own goal from Sergio Busquets. It was a leveller the away side probably didn’t deserve but it was a leveller nonetheless. Now all the Premier League side had to do was to hold out against the finest attacking side of a generation….
Climbing that mountain was not helped by referee Massimo Busacca who had up until the pinnacle of his ineptitude, which we will come to shortly, seen fit to award any contentious decision the way of the Catalan side, as tends to happen at the Nou Camp.
On this occasion the decision the Swiss referee made was as petty as it was unfair. Robin Van Persie, already on a yellow card, lashed in an effort on goal having not heard the whistle blow for offside a second earlier. Busacca felt that worthy of a second yellow, a decision that undoubtedly had an effect on the game and a decision that really did not need to be made.
The Dutch international striker would never have taken the shot knowingly as to do so would have been stupid in the extreme. Watching the replay repeatedly you can see that the Arsenal man acted in a fluid manner and did at no point stop to think and was clearly unlikely to hear any whistle above the din of 95,000 loud supporters in the Nou Camp cauldron.
Any hope Arsenal had to hold on depended greatly on the ability of the side to have an out ball, to be able to stem the flow with a ball up front to a striker who could take the pressure off the defence, that hope was now extinguished.
Johan Djourou tried his hardest to halt the advancing Barcelona, Koscielny continued to look like a headless chicken and probably deserved to be sent off for a number of poorly timed tackles. Iniesta found David Villa who found Xavi and the Spaniard finally found a way past the excellent Almunia.
Two minutes later Koscielny probably just about faintly touched Pedro to hand Barcelona a penalty and Leo Messi impudently tucked it away to kill off any chances of Arsenal’s progress in the competition. Nicklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin were then called on, when ideally they should have in my view been brought on the moment Robin Van Persie was ordered off.
The big Dane did have one chance to become the hero but as is his way Bendtner fluffed the opportunity and yet again proved that when it comes to ball control the 23 year old could perhaps take notes from all his Arsenal team-mates, except perhaps Koscielny.
As I stated from the outset Barcelona did deserve to win but the poor decision making from Mr. Busacca took the gloss off a fine performance from Guardiola’s men and unfairly ripped from Arsenal’s grasp any hope of beating a side who appear to be everything the Gunners aspire to become. Maybe next year?
Victor Valdes 6 (Didn’t have a shot to save, but did that non shot stopping role adequately enough)
Dani Alves 7 (Good attacking runs)
Adriano Correia 7.5 (Impressive performance)
(Maxwell 90) (Not on pitch long enough to earn rating)
Eric Abidal 7 (Did well enough in unaccustomed centre back spot)
Xavi 8 (Usual above par performance)
Andres Iniesta 9 (Great running, inspired through balls an almost flawless display)
Javier Mascherano 8 (Probably the Argentine’s best performance for Barca)
(Seydou Keita 88) (Not on pitch long enough to earn rating)
Sergio Busquets 6 (Didn’t have a good game and scored an own goal to boot)
David Villa 7.5 (Instrumental in second goal)
(Ibrahim Afellay 82) 6.5 (Had an impact when coming on)
Leo Messi 9 (Genius display from a player in the form of his life)
Pedro 7 (At times effective but also tended to drift in and out of the game)
Wojciech Szczesny 6 (Made a routine save, hurt his finger, went off)
(Manuel Almunia 19) 9 (Great display, maybe enough to reclaim the starting spot?)
Bacary Sagna 6 (Did little going forward and even less in defence)
Laurent Koscielny 4 (Out of his depth and simply not good enough on this display)
Johan Djourou 7 (Never stopped trying, made some good blocks and continues to grow into promising centre back)
Gael Clichy 6.5 (Tried to get forward but failed and then ran out of steam)
Abou Diaby 5 (Big mistake to play the Frenchman, was always off the pace)
Cesc Fabregas 5 (Made a huge error that Arsenal paid for for the rest of the match)
(Nicklas Bendtner 78) 6 (Had a chance, fluffed it)
Tomas Rosicky 5 (If he did anything, I missed it)
(Andrei Arshavin 74) 6 (Did he touch the ball?)
Samir Nasri 6.5 (The usually resourceful attacker was forced to play deeper and could not get in the game)
Jack Wilshere 6.5 (Overawed by the occasion but by still one of the better Arsenal performers)
Robin Van Persie 6.5 (Bitty performance that was ended harshly with second yellow)