l Brilliant Barca end Arsenal’s European hopes again l Wenger rages at Van Persie sending off for dissent
BARCELONA vs ARSENAL
Barcelona win 4-3 on aggregate
FURIOUS Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confronted referee Massimo Busacca after seeing his 10 men played off the pitch and dumped out of the Champions League in Barcelona.
Masterful Barca utterly dominated from start to finish but only delivered the killer blows after Robin van Persie had been sent off – Xavi and Lionel Messi, with his second of the night, scoring the decisive goals. Wenger was livid at Van Persie’s second yellow card – shown for shooting after the referee had blown for offside, although the striker denied hearing a whistle – and blamed Busacca for his side’s exit.
“We are frustrated with his decision,” he said. “It is very difficult to understand his attitude. We have many regrets tonight because we didn’t expect to lose the game like that.”
The Frenchman said officials from European chiefs Uefa shared his shock at the sending off, adding: “It killed a promising, fantastic football match. What for? If it’s a bad tackle or a second bookable offence okay, but frankly it is embarrassing.”
Arsenal had just drawn level on the night, through a Sergio Busquets own goal, when Van Persie was dismissed, and Wenger was adamant his team were on course for a huge upset at Camp Nou. He added: “I knew that like the first game [in which Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1] we could come back into the game and overall I’m convinced we would have won this game.”
To make matters worse for Arsenal, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny suffered a dislocated finger and had to be replaced after 15 minutes, while captain Cesc Fabregas appeared to aggravate his hamstring problem.
If there was a bright side for the visitors, Szczesny’s stand-in Manuel Almunia played superbly to keep the scoreline respectable, while teenage midfielder Jack Wilshere starred among stellar company.
There was no denying the superiority of the Spanish champions, however, who enjoyed 69 per cent of possession and mustered 19 attempts at goal. Arsenal did not manage even one.
Danger loomed from the first minute as the Catalans chased the win they needed, but the resolute Johan Djourou made a series of last-ditch blocks and Almunia stood firm – until first half stoppage time. Fabregas, facing his old team, carelessly backheeled to Andres Iniesta and Messi flicked over Almunia and volleyed home with glorious spontaneity.
Arsenal were thrown a lifeline just after the break when Busquets headed into his own net, but their joy quickly turned to despair after Van Persie was sent off and Barca began to run riot.
Xavi finished a slick move by firing past Almunia via a deflection from Bacary Sagna, and Messi, scorer of four goals when Barca eliminated Wenger’s men last season, sealed victory from the penalty spot.
KEY MOMENTS | BARCA?BATTER?GUNNERS
45 mins: After somehow managing to keep Barca at bay, Arsenal were undone by an error from their captain. A suicidal backheel from Cesc Fabregas presented Andres Iniesta with possession just outside the penalty area. Fabregas’ Spain international teammate found Lionel Messi, who improvised brilliantly by flicking the ball over Manuel Almunia and smashing home on the volley.
53 mins: A rare, almost isolated foray into Barca territory saw Arsenal win a corner. Samir Nasri swung the ball in from the left, Abou Diaby rose at the near post and, in keeping with the rest of his performance, missed it. Having been put off by the Frenchman’s attempt, the ball landed almost apologetically on the head of Sergio Busquets and dropped into the corner of the net to restore Arsenal’s advantage.
71 mins: The outstanding Xavi leveled the tie in the 69th minute, finishing off another wonderfully intricate move which involved Iniesta and David Villa. A?nd 90 seconds later Messi landed the killer blow. Laurent Koscielny, who had been lucky not to concede a penalty in the first leg, was penalised for a trip on Pedro and Messi did the rest.