Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dirty Barca - Bizarre referee - Proud Gooners - Next Old Trafford

Barcelona 3 - Arsenal 1 (Barcelona win 4-3 on aggregate)
Champions League
At the Camp Nou

Before the match, I wanted Arsenal to go into the game and put in a performance all Gooners could be proud of. By and large I think they performed admirably.

Whilst all the plaudits will go to Barcelona for a superb attacking game, Arsenal's players can come away with their heads held high following an excellent defensive display.

What some have failed to remember is that Arsenal were 35 minutes from going through with the tie level at 1-1. We were arguably about to embark on the spell in the game when our players would have come into it with the extra stamina we've seen them display against Barca at the 70 minute mark previously.

Largely outside the Arsenal community, no one has commented on how good we were at the back. Our defenders and both goalkeepers had superb games. The arguement that Arsenal have a soft centre can be put to bed now can't it?

Manuel Almunia - who I thought had played his last game for the club - made a number of crucial saves which kept us in the game. All credit to him for his fine performance. What a true professional he is to be able to come into the team and put in a performance like that after all that had gone on before.

Whilst the trick Cesc Fabregas tried on the edge of the box wasn't wise given the situation, who's to say that wouldn't have turned into an excellent counter attacking move had it come off.

It was intercepted by Iniesta, but even in that position he still had a lot still to do to get it to Messi to score. It was unfortunate it happened just before half time. We'd been defending for our lives and both Djourou and Koscielny had made last ditch tackles to pull us out of danger.

The Barca goal aside, a perfectly good half. Although Robin van Persie was booked for something rather stupid.

And whilst the hosts are spoke of in glowing terms, remember the tackles on Nasri and Wilshere. How  the responsible Barca players (Adriano / Abidal) weren't carded, I'll never know.

Then we come on to Daniel Alves. What a cheat. If there were a league for the most unsporting teams in the world, Barca would sure come up near the top.

When we kicked the ball out for treatment to our player they didn't give it back to us, choosing to kick it out again. To think Abidal escaped without punishment for having his hands round van Persie's neck is another disgrace.

After the break I thought we looked a different side. We had time on the ball and managed to string a number of passes together before losing the ball to a Barca team who pressed and pressed and pressed.

We lucked out (slightly) when they scored an own goal.  The corner was played in first time for a change and surprisingly beat the first man. Had Busquets not headed home Fabregas was stood behind him and would have surely done so.

It was game on.

Shockingly van Persie was then sent off for a second booking. He was flagged offside but when the referee blew his whistle the striker was half way through kicking the ball.

How on earth van Persie was meant to (A) hear the whistle and (B) stop his body moving within that second?

Whilst people will say van Persie wasn't offering anything going forward, I would argue he was occupying the Barca defence which stopped Busquers and Abidal pressing forward.

I believe the second yellow was awarded for kicking the ball away. If it were for time wasting there is no clear evidence of that.

Without him, it was hands to the pumps even more than before. We kept them out for a further 15 minutes.

A flowing passing move saw Xavi score. Sagna was unlucky his last-ditch tackle failed to get the ball. Two minutes later Koscielny tripped Pedro and the referee awarded a penalty.

We had a chance to get that vital second away goal when Wilshere played in Bendtner. However, as predictable as night follows day, the big Dane's first touch let him down and Mascherano played the ball back to Valdes.

It was time up and game over. Arsenal were out.

I think we have a right to feel aggrieved with the refereeing decisions. Not one seemed to go for us. Barca didn't pick up a single yellow card whilst Swiss referee Massimo Busacca booked five Gunners.

And his decision to red card van Persie was shocking and one of the worst I've ever been witness to.

We can feel proud of out players. They gave their all. I would have loved to have seen the game finish 11 v 11. Just to know how it would have ended. I think that's one of the reasons I feel so raw about the result.

Now we have to refocus and put all our efforts into the league and FA Cup. We have to be up for the game at Old Trafford on Saturday. There can be no hang over. We need to respond and put in a good performance. We're still on for the double, but as always we need the fully committed and driven Arsenal team turning up in Manchester.

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