Peter Fraser picks through the wreckage of Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Barcelona.
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Last Updated: 09/03/11 12:57pm
Defeat in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League has left Arsene Wenger furious at a perceived injustice, but as the dust settles on the second leg at Camp Nou, what can be learnt from Arsenal's elimination against Barcelona?
A Swiss referee, the importance of possession, an Argentine magician and a well-dressed Spaniard all played a part in the Premier League side's European Cup exit on Tuesday night.
Peter Fraser takes a closer look at what can be taken from the contest between two of the continent's best clubs and examines where Arsenal went wrong against Pep Guardiola's stars.
Paying the price
Arsenal were desperate for captain Cesc Fabregas and star striker Robin van Persie to play, and look what happened. Fabregas would quite clearly never have played if the fixture had been a Premier League trip to Stoke, as opposed to a glittering Champions League tie at the home of his boyhood club, and it remains to be seen whether he has seriously aggravated his hamstring injury. The Spain international was blatantly impaired and his lack of fitness arguably forced him into the uncharacteristically inexperienced back-heel which led to Lionel Messi's opening goal. As for Van Persie, the Dutchman was near enough a spectator after returning from a knee problem. Arsenal's forward was starved of service and collected a first booking out of frustration for shoving Dani Alves in the face. Eric Abidal was lucky not to be dismissed for putting his hand to the throat of Van Persie in a later scuffle, but it remains that the latter's fuse had been suitably lit. Van Persie's ultimate red card was ludicrously harsh, however, it was probably only a matter of time before his temper got the better of him.
Falling on deaf ears
As mentioned above, Van Persie's second yellow card was an appalling decision by now-infamous referee Massimo Busacca. The Swiss match official had a dreadful night, although Arsenal's claims that they would have won were it not for decisions seem a little optimistic. Amid protests that he could not hear the whistle above a 95,000-plus crowd, Van Persie's second booking for kicking the ball away one second after an offside decision was overly strict, rash and the low point of a horribly inconsistent night. Busacca missed Abidal putting his hands around Van Persie's throat and also decided not to award anything when Abou Diaby left a leg hanging for Messi to tumble over, arguably inside the penalty area. For all Busacca's faults, it is also worth remembering that Barcelona did not exactly get the rub of the green from referee Nicola Rizzoli at Emirates Stadium just less than three weeks ago.
If you can't beat them, don't join them
As Arsenal chased shadows and surrendered 68 per cent of possession, according to Uefa's official website, in Barcelona, it created flashbacks of Leyton Orient's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Emirates Stadium at the beginning of March. Russell Slade's team arrived in North London determined to take on their hosts in a battle of passing. The League One side could hardly string three passes together, gave up 65% possession, according to their official website, and were obliterated by Arsenal's reserves. Even Nicklas Bendtner, who could have made it a different story against Barcelona had his first touch been more assured, scored a hat-trick. It was almost an identical tale for Arsenal at Camp Nou. Barcelona, arguably the greatest team in history, were too good for a very talented Arsenal team, who were lacking a much-debated Plan B. Inter Milan demonstrated the tenacious, organised and assured technique to defeat Guardiola's side in last season's Champions League semi-finals. Arsenal were not capable.
Lionel Messi... he's good...
The magical Argentine has now scored six goals against Arsenal in the Champions League. Wenger's side cannot stop the No.10. It might be worth the Frenchman casting his scouting net over Tower Hamlets if he wants to find ways to induce a Messi no-show. But there was also a more than capable supporting cast to Messi. Most teams would be built around Pedro, but for Guardiola he is just a cog in the machine. To watch Andres Iniesta was a master class for the ever-improving Jack Wilshere. The sight of Barcelona hunting in packs on the rare occasions they were not in possession must have been terrifying for potential opponents. However, it must also be said that Barcelona are wasteful. Their tiki-taka is hugely impressive, but 25 shots, not to mention the amount of last-gasp blocks from defenders, were produced over two legs against Arsenal and only four were converted, such was the apparent obsession to score the goal of the season. If Bendtner had scored...
Own worst enemies
From potential Quadruple winners, Arsenal are in danger of imploding and it is not tough to think that they have brought it upon themselves. Whether it be a goalkeeping gaffe, missed chances or a red card, it is difficult to imagine another side who are better at shooting themselves in the foot than Wenger's men. Arriving at the Carling Cup final in tracksuits led to accusations of arrogance, over-the-top on-field celebrations after the first-leg win against Barcelona now seem foolishly premature and, while mathematically possible, statements from Wenger and Samir Nasri that the Premier League is theirs to lose seem to be a case of counting their chickens before they have hatched. Last weekend's draw with Sunderland is evidence. If Arsenal had not made a complete mess of the Champions League group stages, they would have been hammering Roma instead of Shakhtar Donetsk. If a Manchester United side, who will be fiercely determined after defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool, win Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final, Arsenal will be left with only the league as the possible solution to their six-year trophy drought.
A class act
Barcelona boss Guardiola would have every right to have an ego the size of a lovechild from an affair between Jose Mourinho and Madonna following his work in his first managerial job. But, in front of the camera at least, he remains level-headed, polite and dignified. There does not seem to be anything to dislike about Guardiola. He is even one of the snappiest dressers on the managerial circuit. While Wenger was modelling some sort of sleeping-bag/jacket on the Camp Nou touchline, Guardiola was sporting a trendy v-neck and tie. Guardiola's pre-match comments about Wilshere and Barcelona's B-team were taken out of all context, because they were intended as a compliment. It is impossible to begrudge Guardiola for anything and at the age of just 40 he has already carved himself a reputation as one of football's greats.