By Ulysse Pasquier, writing from Montreal
Ignoring the result, the first leg between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates was everything we had hoped for. The amount of precision in both teams’ passing and control made the game a joy to watch for anyone passionate about football, Gooner or Culé. Although not lacking the excitement and controversy, Tuesday’s match was somewhat disappointing in terms of the quality of play with only one team coming out of the gates. Indeed, the first half couldn’t have been more one-sided with waves of Messi-led attacks leaving Arsenal gasping for air. Sadly, the turning point of the game wasn’t the Argentinian’s genius touch to set up the first goal, or any other piece of football magic but a jaw dropping decision from the referee instead. The second half looked promising with the Gunner’s unlikely equalizer bound to open up the game and yet we barely had time to say “game on” before Mr. Massimo Busacca made the conscious decision to end the contest by sending off Robin Van Persie.
We again saw the real Barcelona last night following a series of shaky wins in La Liga since their defeat at the Emirates. Pep Guardiola’s choice to use Mascherano in holding midfield worked perfectly suffocating Arsenal’s every move. It was easy to forget the absence of Piqué and Carlos Puyol as the Gunners could barely go out of their own half and align 3 passes in the first 45 minutes. It can be said that Barcelona had a choke hold on Arsenal, literally.
If not for some of the best defending I’ve seen in some time from Wenger’s side, the contest could very well have been over long before Messi’s brilliant flick over Almunia.
Yes, Arsenal were still in it, so much in fact that it only took a corner for them to be back in front with one foot into the quarter finals and all that Barcelona dominance nullified. That must sound familiar to Arsenal fans as it is often exactly what happens to them against teams in the Premier League (Stoke, Newcastle,..). No matter how much one team controls the game, they will never be safe from a mistake and especially on set pieces. Barcelona are a particularly small side and with Busquet and Abidal at the back, I am sure Wenger knew Arsenal had to take advantage of their opponent’s Achilles heel.
Then came the decision. Just as those watching the game started thinking this game might actually get interesting and perhaps Arsenal would get the confidence to hit back at Barcelona’s control of the possession, the referee chose to give a second yellow card to Robin Van Persie, basically cutting the last thread by which the Gunners were hanging. One little second: the time between Massimo Busacca’s whistle and the Dutch striker’s inaccurate shot after he was deemed narrowly offside; the time it took for any sense of hope Arsenal fans may have had to be completely crushed. Having watched the incident multiple times now, I still cannot understand what came over the Swiss referee. Of course if you take the rules by the letter it was a bookable “offence”, however referees should still have some common sense in this kind of situation and usually do when the transgression is so minimal. And of all places to make that decision, Busacca had to choose the Camp Nou and its 99,354-seat capacity.
Massimo Busacca has not been a stranger to controversy having once raised his middle finger to away supporters, told his assistant referee during a game to “shut up” and being bizarrely accused of urinating on the pitch in the middle of a match between Al-Gharafa and Al-Khor in Qatar, actions that can only be justified by having had too many drinks.
The timing and the strangeness of the decision also hurt the Arsenal players who had been running after the ball for 50 minutes and knew they would have to run even more for the remaining part of the game. Towards the end, Arsenal looked tired and I was disappointed to see them almost give up as though they had not realized they were just one good Bendtner first touch away from knocking the favourites out of the Champions League. It will be very interesting to see how Arsenal react from this loss with still so much to play for in the Premier League. While the aggregate result was only 4-3 compared to last year’s 6-3, the loss will be much more difficult to recover from simply because of the referee’s decision and the Arsenal players have already seemed demoralized, from their Twitter posts.
In the end the best team won and it will take something special to beat this Barcelona side, or just another Massimo Busacca.
Now out of the Carling Cup and the Champions League in just 2 weeks and facing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday, this could be Arsenal’s toughest and most important part of the season. This brings me back to the famous Invincible season of 2003-2004 as Arsenal were knocked out of both the FA Cup and the Champions League in quick succession towards the end of the season and were being led 2-1 by Liverpool at Highbury. We all know what happened then as Arsenal came back to win 4-2 and finish Premier League Champions, but then again they had Thierry Henry. How will this Arsenal react?
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- rienusman answered: yeahh i heart u whyruss„come on vote la barcaaa..hhhaaa
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- jtnorton answered: Arsenal need to think about building through an EPL win to a future with a lot of success. How vital is Cesc here, vs. Wilshere/Walcott/RVP?
- guneralex answered: 11 to 11 player Barca cn 4 get about Qurter finel but they got 13 player include refereeee so Arsenal have to lose
- aiinsworths answered: Ref is a Cule fan. There’s no single Barcelona player got booked. js
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- highwaytospain answered: The ref hates Arsenal. So Barca didnt desreve to win at all.
- cr7x answered: barcelona
- retrospectivez answered: THE REF HATES ARSENAL
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- eutrivirtue answered: They didn’t deserve to win at all. Barca gets the most favoritism i’ve ever seen. Pathetic reff.
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- itsclobberingtimebarca answered: yes dey deserved to win
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