Barcelona Outfire Arsenal
Three weeks ago Arsenal shocked the footballing world when they overturned a goal deficit and handed FC Barcelona an almost unthinkable 2-1 defeat at the Emirates in London. There were many in North London who thought Arsenal could do it again, and the Gunners certainly arrived in Barcelona in confident mood for yesterday's return leg of the Champions League last 16.
However, despite fielding a much stronger side than this time last year, when Lionel Messi scored four goals, Arsenal couldn't live with the fast passing and pressing game of Barcelona FC. For around 45 minutes they defended admirably but it was all Barca... passes whizzed along the turf of Camp Nou, between Alves, Iniesta, Xavi and Messi, and on the rare occasions when Arsenal won the ball a swarm of red and blue shirts were there to reclaim it.
Just before half time Barcelona finally unlocked the Arsenal defence. Cesc Fabregas gave the ball away with a careless back heel on the edge of the area and Iniesta won it and, after some sublime footwork, played it through to Messi who first chipped it over the onrushing Almunia's leg and then volleyed home. A great goal!
In the second half Barca's opponents fare very slightly better, although it was still a rare occasion when they won a corner. As Nasri bent it in Diaby rose, but it was Busquets - standing in for the injured Puyol - who headed it into his own goal.
It was 1-1, and 3-2 to Arsenal on aggregate. Suddenly the game was back in the balance. The real turning point of the game came however when the Gunner's Robin Van Persie rushed onto a through ball. The whistle went for offside, but Van Persie shot all the same. Was it dissent? Or did he not hear the whistle? Either way it didn't seem to warrant a yellow card, but the Swiss referee brandished one - the striker's second - and he was duly sent off.
With their opponent's already on the back foot before the red card, Barcelona were able to dismantle a visibly-tired, ten-man Arsenal with relative ease. Xavi added a second after a trademark piece of one touch play by Iniesta and Villa, whilst Messi added the crucial third with a penalty after Koscielny brought down Pedro.
Despite their dominance, Barcelona nearly lost the game at the death when Wilshere won the ball and played a perfectly-weighted ball into the Barca area to the onrushing Bendtner. The Dane's first touch was just off though and Mascherano and Valdes were able to sweep up. Had he scored and Arsenal would have gone through to the Champions League Quarter Finals on away goals. That would have been harsh on Barcelona whose dominance on the night was almost absolute, even if they did have the referee to thank for crushing any Arsenal hopes of a strong finish.