On a night where Arsenal had a real chance to finally get the better of Barcelona they ended up going out of the Champions League thanks to another display of inept refereeing. What crossed the referee's mind when he decided to send Robin Van Persie off is only known to him, but you can be sure his thoughts were influenced by the constant moaning and badgering of him by the Barcelona players. They might well be one of the best teams ever in football, but they make it impossible to like them with their constant cheating and complaining.
RVP got very worked up towards the end of the first half when the Barcelona players were accusing Jack Wilshere of feigning injury to waste time. As words were exchanged with the Barcelona players he was clearly grabbed by the throat and pushed in the face, but the referee chose not to take any action. Both of those actions are straight red cards under the rules of the game, and the referee wasn't strong enough to enforce those rules. When the game restarted RVP got a yellow card for a push on Dani Alves, and Alves lay on the ground in a true display of how to feign injury to make sure he got that card.
Arsenal managed to score early in the second half to put themselves in the driving seat, but within minutes the referee made sure their advantage was of little use. RVP ran on to a through ball and did his best to try to score, but his effort went wide. Unknown to him the assistant had flagged him offside, and the referee blew his whistle to confirm that decision. When RVP continued the move and took his shot the referee decided that he was wasting time and showed him a second yellow card. RVP argued that he hadn't heard the whistle due to the noise of the crowd, but it was too late and he was off.
All that can be asked from a referee is to be fair to both teams, but clearly that was not the case last night. The inability of the refere to issue even one yellow card to a Barcelona team that engaged in cheating and sly fouling was unacceptable, but unfortunately it was to be expected. Why was Alves not booked for his early scissors tackle on Samir Nasri, or Lionel Messi for deliberate handball in the Arsenal penalty area in the second half. When RVP was grabbed by the throat and pushed in the face why was there no red card for the Barcelona players responsible. I'm not saying Arsenal players are saints, but all you can ask is that a referee enforces the rules in an even handed manner.
This Barcelona team may be exceptional, but they didn't win the Champions League last season when they were outclassed tactically by Inter Milan. When they beat Chrlsea in the semi final the previous season I was pretty happy, but the completely biased referee in the second leg was the only reason they won. Chelsea should have had a host of penalties in that game, but time and again the referee turned them down. It would seem they are to European football what "Manure" are to English football with referees constantly favouring them and doing all they can to further their cause.
I'm not bitter about the football Barcelona played, but I am bitter that Arsenal weren't given the opportunity to play most of the second half with 11 players. When Arsenal equalised there was every chance that they could have gone on to make it through to the quarter finals, but the referee's inability to treat both teams in the same manner put an end to that. With no centre forward on the pitch Arsenal found it virtually impossible to keep the ball, and their chances went up in smoke.
In the game Arsene Wenger chose both Cesc Fabregas and RVP from the start, and surprisingly he chose Tomas Rosicky instead of Andrey Arshavin too. It was a big risk to play both players as they returned from injury, and if the reports of Cesc feeling a twinge in his hamstring after only 15 minutes are true the risk may not have been worth it. Abu Diaby was also chosen in midfield ahead of Denilson, but the rest of the team was as expected. It was always going to be a tough task for Arsenal, and their defensive abilities were going to be tested to the extreme.
In the early exchanges it was all Barcelona, as Arsenal were incapable of retaining possession. Barcelona harried every Arsensl player on the ball, and Arsenal found it very difficult to cope with. The only thing missing from Barcelona's game at that stage was a goal, but they weren't really creating too many opportunities as Arsenal stood fairly strong at the back.
The first blow for Arsenal came in the 18th minute when Wojciech Szczesny had to be replaced after saving a Barcelona free kick. He injured a finger in doing so, and there is a possibility he has ruptured a tendon in his finger which would end his season. With Lukasz Fabianski already out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury it leaves Manuel Almunia as the only fit keeper if Szczesny has suffered that injury. Almunia came on for Szczesny and despite a scare from a poorly attempted clearance that hit Laurent Koscielny he played very well.
As the first half continued Barcelona looked less and less likely to score to me, and half time had almost arrived when Arsenal pressed the self destruct button. They broke up yet another Barcelona move in the Arsenal box, and the ball was played to Cesc. For some reason known only to him he decided to try to backheel the ball, and it was seized upon just outside the Arsenal box by Andreas Iniesta. He played the ball through for Messi who scooped it over the advancing Almunia, and then stroked it into an empty net. That goal came in the third minute of added time in the first half, and it was a bitter blow to Arsenal.
It meant Barcelona were ahead in the tie, and Arsenal needed a goal from somewhere or they were going out. After 52 minutes Arsenal got a corner after some good work by Nasri. Arsensl knew they had an aerial advantage from set pieces coming into the game, and I was mystified when they failed to put their previous corner into the Barcelona penalty area. This corner was different though, as Nasri delivered it into the six yard box, and three Barcelona players vied with each other to win the header. Luckily for Araenal one of them managed to head it into his own goal, and the sides were level on the night, and Arsenal were ahead in the tie again.
The most important thing for Arsenal was to hold out for as long as possible, and pick Barcelona off on the break, but the referee saw to it that those tactics were of no use by sending off RVP. Arsenal did all they could to hold out, but they were tiring as Barcelona kept coming at them. The second goal for Barcelona came in the 68th minute, and it was from a beautiful move. The way the ball finished up in the net typified Arsenal's luck on the night, as Almunia looked set to save David Villa's shot yet again, but it was deflected past him by Bacary Sagna.
That brought the tie level, but surely Arsenal could not last the pace, and it was only a matter of time before Barcelona finished them off. Barcelona continued to miss chance after chance in the second half, as Almunia made a string of fine saves, he was very brave at times, as he got a kick in the face as well as a kick in the head. If he is to be Arsenal's keeper for the rest of the season the hope is that he can play like that in every game.
The third goal that Barcelona wanted came in the 71st minute when Koscielny took Pedro down for a penalty. Pedro was very clever, as he fell over the outstretched leg of Koscielny rather than chase the ball which was moving in a different direction. It was a penalty though, and Messi stepped up to take it. Almunia has a good record when it comes to saving penalties, but he looked a little silly when he stood still and didn't dive. I can only assume that he hoped Messi would put the ball straight down the middle, but his gamble didn't pay off.
As the game continued it looked likely that Barcelona would add even more goals, but then against the odds Arsenal suddenly saw their chance to progress. With the tie still delicately balanced a goal by Arsenal would put them through and they eventually created that chance. Arshavin had come on for Rosicky and Nicklas Bendtner for Cesc, and they were the two players involved. Arshavin closed down a Barcelona defender and played the ball to Bendtner on the edge of the Barcelona box.
Unfortunately his first touch was poor and the ball ran slightly away from him which gave a Barcelona defender the chance to get the ball back to the keeper. The general consensus was that the chance fell to the wrong man, and Bendtner missed the chance to write his name in the Arsenal history books. If Arsenal had scored that chance it would have been very harsh on Barcelona, but it would have been no more than they deserved in my opinion. I can only hope that they don't go on to win the trophy, as the sight of them lifting it would sicken me.
I always had a soft spot for Barcelona but that has well and truly gone now. Between their efforts to unsettle Arsenal's captain and their constant attempts to influence referees by foul means. As long as referees tolerate their constant diving and badgering they will continue to do it, and the inability of the football authorities to make teams like them operate within their means is sickening to fans of clubs that are run correctly.
After the game Arsene Wenger had a blazing row with the referee and I wonder if he will suffer as a result. RVP was also highly critical of the referee and he will be fortunate if he doesn't suffer any further action besides his suspension for the red card.
With a huge game against "Manure" in the FA Cup on Saturday the true cost of last night will be known very soon. If Cesc, RVP and Szczesny are all unavailable it will be very hard for Arsenal to win that game, and their season could suddenly be teetering on the edge of disaster. I hope they can find it within themselves to bounce back from last night, and recover from what was a physically draining encounter.
There are other reasons why Arsenal are currently licking their wounds, and not least of them was their failure to win their group after winning their first three games. The team selection away to both Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga was simply not good enough, and Arsene Wenger was at fault for that. If Arsenal had won their group they would have had an easier tie in the last 16, but they didn't and they paid the price for it last night.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.