A comprehensive performance from Barcelona knocks Arsenal out, putting themselves into the quarters winning 3-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate. Arsenal rarely threatened in the game before and after Robin Van Persie was harshly sent off for time wasting by kicking the ball away with 35 minutes to go. The referee got the decision, no player on the pitch would have heard the whistle, Wenger was livid but Barcelona were comfortable throughout even though they were only one goal away from going out.
Barcelona dominated from the first minute, Pedro received a ball over the top but Koscienly did well to block the shot. Arsenal were doing well to contain the Barcelona pressure but you sensed it wouldn’t be too long before Barcelona opened the scoring. They were camped inside the Arsenal half, as soon as Arsenal won the ball, Barcelona fought hard to win the ball back. On 15 minutes, Koscienly got booked for a foul on Pedro, from the resulting free kick, Alves ran up and blasted the ball straight in the path of Szczesny. But Szczesny got his hand in the wrong position suffering a finger injury which couldn’t be fixed by the physio, this meant Almunia had to come on. Almunia’s last start was against Leyton Orient in the F.A. Cup, would he still be rusty? Barca were on top but neither one of the Arsenal’s keepers had to make a decent save.
Barca’s started to put the pressure on after 27 minutes, Barca were now creating chances; Messi ran through the center but got stopped, the ball fell to Pedro who tried to dig out a shot but he shot wide. Barca had more chances to get the 1st goal: Villa shot tamely at Almunia when put through by Messi, Adriano hit the post from an acute angle after a reverse past from Villa. Barca were certainly knocking on the door but Arsenal were just about keeping the quality out.
Just on 45 minutes, Wilshere went down injured, Barca players felt that he was faking it and time wasting. Luckily for Barca the referee was looking the other way when Abidal raised his hands to Van Persie throat. On another day, he might have been sent off. A minute later, the ball was played down the line where Van Persie took the bait to get him angry and pushed Alves to earn himself a silly yellow card. Only a mistake would put Barca in and this stage.
A mistake did arrive on 46 minutes from the Barcelona boy himself, Fabregas, he tried to back heal the ball to Wilshere just outside the penalty area. The suicidal ball was intercepted by Xavi who played Messi in, he delightfully dinked the ball over the onrushing Almunia, then volleyed the ball home in stoppage time of the first half.
1-0 at half time, Barcelona were going through on away goals, they had been the dominant side with Arsenal rarely attacking and having no shot on the Barcelona goal. Wenger would be furious with Fabregas, they are some occasions where you have to hit row Z.
The game was solely with Barcelona to loose when the second half kicked off, all first half they were camped inside Arsenal’s half. The second half started off quietly until 53 minutes, fantastic play from Nasri on the left wing forced Alves to put the ball out for a corner. Nasri floated the ball in and under pressure from Diaby, Sergio Busquets headed past Valdes to make it 1-1 on the night and 3-2 Arsenal on aggregate. Barcelona had to go again, Arsenal had no shot on target all night but were drawing 1-1 at the Nou Camp.
The game changed on 55 minutes, a ball was played over the top to Van Persie, the referee blew his whistle but Van Persie had a shot at goal. The ref deemed that he was time wasting, to every Arsenal players amazement he showed Van Persie a second yellow followed by a red. Wenger was going berserk on the touchline, there was 1 second between the whistle going and the shot, an absolutely ridiculous decision which could have cost Arsenal dear. Van Persie pleaded that he couldn’t hear the whistle which I agreed with him but when your playing at the Nou Camp, you expect many decisions to go against you and that one did.
Barcelona were increasing their pressure on the Arsenal goal with every minute going by, Almunia made two great saves: when a cross by Alves fell to Xavi who played Villa in, Almunia made himself big and prevented the goal; another save from Villa after Messi had played him in. Almunia was keeping Arsenal in this game. But on 68 minutes a sensational move from Barcelona put them 2-1 up on the night. Iniesta picked the ball up, used quick feet to get in between the Arsenal midfielder’s, he played a ball to Villa who plays a ball around the corner to a waiting Xavi who stroked the ball home. Flowing football at its best, Arsenal had no answer to Barcelona.
And on 70 minutes, Barcelona put themselves right in the box seat, Pedro wriggled away from a challenge in the box but Koscienly left a leg out where Pedro was caught giving Barcelona a penalty. Messi made no mistake with the penalty putting Barcelona 3-1 up on the night and Messi scoring his 45th goal this season, outstanding.
Barcelona were cruising, Almunia did well preventing it from going to 4: saving well from Alves, Messi and the substitute Affelay. Arsenal had one last chance, which fell on 86 minutes. Wilshere broke down the right flank, played a nice ball to Bendtner but his first touch was awful letting the ball run to Valdes. Bendtner can score a hat trick against Leyton Orient but do nothing against Barca, shows where your level should be Bendtner. Arsenal defended well with special mentions going to Almunia ‘who would have put himself back in Wenger’s good books’, Wilshere and Djourou even though they won’t want to here it.
Barcelona were comfortable throughout the game not coming under any pressure which is amazing really with a quality team in Arsenal failing to have one single shot on goal. Barcelona’s dominance was unbelievable but again Arsenal paid the price for finishing second in their group which forced them to play Barcelona. This is arguably the best club side ever to play together, although Arsenal won’t like losing they have lost in consecutive years to the best side in the world. Arsenal kept Barcelona out until Fabregas back healed on the edge of the box, the first goal was crucial but on another day it would have come off but everybody knows you don’t do that against Barcelona.
Arsenal can have arguments about the ref but he will always give more to Barcelona when they are playing at home. The red card wasn’t a red, there is no way Van Persie could have heard the whistle, I would have liked to have seen it happen to a Barca player to see whether the outcome would have been the same or different.
Arsenal need to pick themselves up, they still have a great chance in the Premiership and a big game on Saturday at Old Trafford against United. They are still in two competitions but how will their confidence be after tonight? Will there be any action for Van Persie or Wenger after match comments? Surely not, it was heat of the moment and they are right with what they said. Can Barcelona win the Champions League this year?
Next Up: Manchester United vs Arsenal – Saturday 17:15 ITV, F.A. Cup 6th Round Sevilla vs Barcelona – Sunday 20:00 SS, La Liga