Well, that was without doubt that most bizarrely awful refereeing decision I have ever seen.
Robin van Persie is put through on goal, the ref whistles for offside, a second later Robin shoots.
The referee gives him a second yellow for time wasting and he’s off.
I was watching with some Arsenal fans and some who support other teams. Every single one of them thought it was a disgraceful decision.
In the excitement of a Champions League game, in a crowd of 90,000 where the home fans always whistle loudly when the opposition has the ball, the referee decided that Robin heard the whistle and ignored it. All within a second.
The first thought that came into my head was “have they bought the ref?”
I discounted it equally quickly.
Notwithstanding some glaring examples to the contrary (like Bernard Tapie’s Marseilles regime) I don’t believe there is much corruption in football.
So it’s just plain incompetence, from an official who allowed himself to be influenced and intimidated by the crowd all through the game (witness all the Arsenal bookings in the first half, while Barca fouls, particularly on Nasri, went unpunished).
Whatever, it killed the game. At the time of the sending off it was 1-1 and Arsenal were on course to qualify.
Barcelona, as we have come to expect, had most of the possession and occasionally played some breathtaking football. But Arsenal were defending with great determination, clearly wanting to keep it tight until we could open up in the final 15 minutes when our superior fitness would reap dividends, as it has done before against Barca.
Would we have qualified if RvP had stayed on? We’ll never know, but I suspect we would have been in with a damn good chance. But trying to play with 10 men against the best pass-and-move team in the world was never going to have a happy ending.
So here’s my match report, such as it is:
First half, we defended really well and restricted Barca to very few clear chances, even thought they dominated possession. I’m sure many a heart was a-flutter when Szczesney went off with an injured finger to be replaced by Almunia, but Manuel did really well throughout the game and can’t be faulted for their goals.
When Barca did tiptoe their way through our defence, usually Djourou or Koscielny was there to clear things up. It was nervy, no doubt, but it reminded me of Parma 1994.
Then, in added time in the first half, Cesc made a stupid, stupid mistake, trying a fancy back-heel on the edge of our box. I doubt he would have tried that at The Grove, but he was having an anonymous game and maybe wanted to try and prove a point with some fancy play at the Nou Camp. We lost the ball, a couple of quick passes later and Messi was one-on-one with Almunia and scored at the second attempt. Half time 0-1.
Second half, we carried on soaking up pressure. It was a dangerous game but we were working hard, closing Barcelona down and occasionally riding our luck. Almunia was called on to make some great blocks at the feet of the Barca attackers. Then Nasri won a corner and when it came over a huge leap by Diaby was enough to confuse the Barca defenders and the own goal went in off the head of Busquets. Cue pandemonium among the Arsenal faithful.
Barca almost created a goal from the re-start but then we regained our shape and continued to defy them. I was thinking that if we could just hold it at 1-1 until around the 70th minute we would start to step up a gear and maybe even get a second.
Unfortunately it was at that point that the Swiss referee decided to hand Barcelona the tie.
Down to ten men, the Barca onslaught was inevitable. Their second goal was a classic Barcelona move rounded off by Xavi – a really great goal. Their third was a soft penalty (Koscielny adjudged to have fouled Pedro) which was calmly slotted home by Messi.
We had one great chance to steal the tie, when Bendtner was clean through in the final minutes, but everything that’s wrong with the big Dane was evident in his clumsy first touch and the chance went begging. Would Robin have converted it? Very possibly.
In the end, all those who said it’s better to go out now than in the semis or the final have been given their wish. And the manner of our defeat – the blatant injustice of Robin’s sending off – may help drive us on in the other competitions. Time will tell. But I was left angry and dejected by it all.
No question Barcelona play sublime football, although some of their play-acting and cheating lets them down. I would like them to go on and win the competition simply because their style of play deserves to be successful.
I hope Arsene plays the strongest team possible against Manchester United on Saturday. This is not the time to have our ‘cup team’ take another spanking at Old Trafford.
Szczesney: Digitally challenged. No score.
Sagna: Picked up where he left off in the Carling Cup, unfortunately. His form has suddenly gone off in the last couple of weeks. He did OK, but his ball use was poor as was some of his decision making. 6
Djourou: Good game from big Johan. Tracked the Barca players well and made some great interceptions. 7
Koscielny: Also did well, particularly given his early yellow card. Like many of our team he occasionally flirted with danger by over-elaborating having won the first ball, but overall pretty good. 7
Clichy: A bit wayward positionally at times but got forward well when he could. Decent effort. 6.5
Fabregas: Anonymous and caused their first goal with a stupid back-heel. 4
Diaby: Out of his depth in this quality. Tried hard but always needed a second longer than he ought to have done on the ball. 5
Wilshere: Always working, always trying, another really good effort from Jack. Showed his inexperience and naivety at the death by taking a short free kick in stoppage time when he should have waited for everyone to get in the box and then just hoofed one in. 7
Rosicky: Closed down well but overall pretty anonymous. 5
Nasri: Worked hard down the left flank all game long and looked our most promising outlet. Was consistently fouled without any protection from the ref. 7
Van Persie: Very difficult for him as the lone striker, but kept running and kept showing for the ball until his disgraceful sending-off. 7
Almunia: Outstanding game from the Spaniard. Blocked countless on-target attempts. No chance for the Barca goals. MoTM 8
Arshavin: Looked busy and dangerous as we chased the game. 7
Bendtner: It’s all about that terrible touch when he had a chance to get us into the quarter-finals. His skills sadly lag way behind his ego. 4