Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (Barcelona win 4-3 on aggregate)
A dominant display from Barcelona saw them run Arsenal ragged for 90 minutes at the Camp Nou and deservedly make their way into the last eight.
However, Arsenal will be seething at the red card handed to Robin van Persie, the striker, with the scores level at 1-1 in the 55th minute, and will point to that as the turning point in the match, before goals from Xavi and a second for Lionel Messi, handed the Catalan giants their place in the quarter-final.
Prior to kick-off, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger sprung a surprise naming both van Persie and captain Cesc Fabregas in his starting XI, despite both players respective injury problems.
The pattern of the match was set right from the beginning, as Barcelona’s metronomic passing pulled Arsenal left and right, however the Premier League side kept their shape and their high line.
Barcelona could make no in roads and in the opening fifteen minutes were unable to test rookie ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny, making only his second appearance in the Champions League – both against Barcelona.
In the 19th minute however, the Polish ‘keepers night was over. After handling a bouncing free-kick struck from distance by Brazilian full-back Dani Alves, Szczesny bowled the ball out of play and called for the trainer. A dislocated finger, saw him replaced by Manuel Almunia.
The Gunners were pushed progressively further back as the half developed, a stunning last-ditch challenge from Johan Djourou denying Xavi a chance to shoot when clean through, whilst Lionel Messi, the FIFA World Player of the Year, fired a shot straight at Almunia from 12 yards and Adriano, the former Sevilla winger playing at left-back, hit an outrageous cross-shot off Almunia’s right hand post.
The first 45 minutes were played almost exclusively in the Arsenal half, and the away side accumulated four bookings, Koscielny, Wilshere and Clichy for fouls, van persie for an errant hand that caught Alves in the face.
As the game began to get slightly bad tempered, and four minutes of injury-time were shown, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger would have hoped to have got his side into the dressing-room to re-assess tactics with the scoreline at 0-0. They didn’t.
A needless backheel from Cesc Fabregas, who had been nothing more than a passenger during the first 45, gifted Barcelona possession, and Andres Iniesta played a cushioned pass through to Lionel Messi.
The Argentine forward, clearly onside, flicked the ball sublimely over the prone body of Almunia, before volleying into an empty net, putting Barcelona ahead both on the night, and in the tie.
The second half continued where the first left off, until a delightful piece of individual play from Samir Nasri when faced by two Barcelona defenders, won Arsenal a corner.
Nasri swung the ball over to the near post, where it was turned into his own net by makeshift centre half Sergio Busquets. Arsenal were back in front.
But just two minutes later, their fans delirium turned to despair.
A clipped pass from Fabregas found van Persie who took a touch and instantly fired a shot wide. However, the linesmans flag was up and the Dutchman had been offside.
But Swiss official Massimo Busacca adjudged that the Arsenal striker, who had barely been in the game up to that point, was trying to waste time and scandalously waived a second yellow card in his direction, followed by a red.
Van Persie claimed he could not hear the whistle, such was the noise of the 98,000 supporters in attendance.
He had a point. But it did not matter. Arsenal were down to 10 men.
Arsene Wenger, with his sides backs firmly to the wall took a leaf out of the Jose Mourinho playbook and attempted to defend on the edge of the penalty area, parking the proverbial bus, with two banks of four and the clearly stricken Fabregas playing furthest forward.
But as Barcelona continued to move the ball, Alves on the right offering an outstanding outlet throughout and Iniesta and Xavi controlling the match throught the middle, it became a matter of not if but when.
And when came in the 69th minute. And it came gloriously.
The metronomic passing continued, until Andres Iniesta, scorer of the winning goal in last year’s World Cup final, took possession and drove at the Arsenal defence, slaloming around two despairing challenges.
The diminutive midfielder then played a short pass into striker David Villa, whose first time through ball found the onrushing Xavi, whose goalbound shot took a nick of Bacary Sagna on its way past Almunia and into the net.
Two minutes later and the hosts were in front.
Once more good interplay involving Alves, Xavi and Pedro, saw the Spanish international winger tripped by Laurent Koscielny in the penalty area. Messi coolly slotted the penalty past the stationary Almunia.
That looked as though that would be all, Arsenal having failed to muster a single shot on goal. However, in the 88th minute Jack Wilshere stole the ball from Adriano, before playing a lovely ball into the feet of Nicklas Bendtner, who had earlier replaced Fabregas. The man who had dreamed of scoring once more in Camp Nou, fluffed his lines, taking an awful first touch which allowed Javier Mascherano to make an excellent challenge.
Bendtner’s chance had been and gone. As had Arsenal’s.
The appalling red card shown to van Persie gives the Gunners supporters a hate figure in the shape of the match official Busacca. But in truth, they simply weren’t good enough, comprehensively outplayed by everything that they hope to one day be.
Arsenal weren’t good enough. But who is, is perhaps a more pertinent question.