The second leg of this encounter failed to live up to expectations as controversy took centre stage at the Camp Nou last night. The home side advanced to the quarter final after winning the game 3-1 which gave them a 4-3 aggregate victory over the north London side. However, it was the sending off of Robin van Persie that has got everyone talking after the game.
Arsenal’s approach to the game was clearly to defend for as long as possible and score against the run of play in the 2nd half. It was a strange move from Wenger who always advocates that his side play attractive, attacking football; there was very little evidence of that last night. They set up to play very narrow and to encourage Barcelona to play down the wings rather than play through them.
The home side were far from their best last night; much of the build-up play was too slow and laboured. It was only when a player skipped passed a tackle or two that you thought they would actually carve through the defence. The technical ability shown by Iniesta for the first goal (after Fabregas’ atrocious back pass) was outstanding; his first three touches took him passed Wilshire and Fabregas before he played a perfect pass to Messi. The Argentine’s finish was exquisite and was a bitter blow to Arsenal who had almost made it to half-time without conceding.
Early in the 2nd half Nasri managed to win a corner for Arsenal after some impressive work to retain possession from Mascherano. The resulting corner was headed into his own net by Busquets which levelled the game and put Arsenal ahead again in the tie. Three minutes after scoring we saw the controversial sending off; Fabregas had played his best pass of the night to van Persie who controlled the ball instantly but hit his right footed shot wide of the right hand post. Suddenly the referee ran over and branded a yellow card, given that it was his 2nd of the night a red followed quickly afterwards.
It was a shocking decision. There is no other way to describe it; there was one second between the whistle blowing and van Persie shooting. The game as a spectacle was over, it was now a matter of when Barcelona scored and how many they would get. It must be said that Xavi’s goal (Barcelona’s 2nd) was fantastic, an example of the Catalans at their best. The penalty taken by Messi ensured that Barcelona would advance at Arsenal’s expense.
Although the sending off changed the game it was difficult to see how Arsenal would have changed their style effectively without leaving more gaps in the defence. Their side is simply not good enough to go to the Camp Nou and defend for 90 minutes. They should also not have played Fabregas; he was far from fit and had his worst game in an Arsenal shirt.
The trophy should now be there for Barcelona to record their 4th European Cup win this season. They were not at their best last night but it was still enough to see off Arsenal. It is no shame to lose to a side like Barcelona; they are the best team in the world, have the best players in the world and play the best football I have ever seen and probably will ever see. Credit should go to Arsenal for the way they played at the Emirates but they have come up short again.