Barcelona 4 Arsenal 1
It was, in one sense, horribly reminiscent of how Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League two years previously.
At Anfield, Theo made a lung-busting run, cut it across to a big centre forward and we scored. As things stood, Arsenal would go through to the Champions League semi-final.
But that is where the similarities end: okay Barca scored the fourth goal because we had thrown bodies forward, but there was no refereeing injustice like there was at Anfield.
Having said that, there is one complaint which it is very fair to make. Arsenal scored. I went mental. But there was no focus. Aside from questioning why Diaby did not play in Walcott, what was he doing in that position? At Anfield they over-celebrated a goal and got punished a couple of minutes later and I can't help but feeling that's what happened again.
Diaby sat too high and consequently it gave Messi the room to roam - Alex Song was the biggest miss: it's easy to castigate Silvestre for repeatedly backing off Messi but once he gets into those advanced positions it becomes very dangerous to bring him down. Abou Diaby was the weak performer of the evening for not trying to shield the defence more from.
Okay, Xavi's passing is outstanding, but I just felt we could have made it harder for him to slip balls through. Particularly, as Xavi and Messi aside, Barcelona did not threaten that much. The stats show that Pedro has scored lots of goals in La Liga this season and Bojan is a clinical finisher; but they did not seem to pose a threat. Aside from his ridiculous theatrics, Busquets did not do all that much; Keita was average, Alves bombed forward but his crossing was weak; there was, in reality, much to take heart from.
This Barcelona side is currently the best team in Europe. Okay, they were missing Puyol and Pique, but that was for breaking the rules, not through being unlucky with injuries. An Arsenal side missing five of its six best players, did give Barcelona a game. It wasn't until the final 15 minutes of the tie that it could unequivocally be declared over. If Bendtner had headed home with 20 minutes to play, it could have been a very difficult last quarter for Barcelona.
Barcelona could not deal with Theo Walcott, which to me suggests that after Song, Arshavin was the player Arsenal missed most. The little Russian has not offered all that much since the turn of the year, but the reality is that he always performs in the big games. But more than this, he is unpredictable and offers something different. With Walcott, it's pace; with Arshavin, it's the snapshot which nobody expects.
So the reasons to be optimistic are twofold: with arguably our five best players back in the team, it should be a very different match against Barcelona. Perhaps the manager was guilty of rushing players back too quickly but it is easy to blame him after the event. Having seen how we played without them, it was worth a try. It's easy to say buy more players, but why would quality players want to come and sit on the bench? The first-team is excellent, it just needs to to be kept fit.
The second reason to be optimistic, is that even with Messi in dazzling form, Arsenal still competed. Sure, he's the best player in the world but he's also in outstanding form was given too much space by Arsenal last night. One would hope Arsenal would learn from this and would defend better against him in future. The bottom line, is that with a top holding midfielder player, we kept him much quieter in the first leg; and, perhaps most pertinently, the ref did us no favours because once Denilson had been farcically booked it was much harder for him to freely tackle Messi.
Even the best squads can only cope with so many injuries. Even the best defence would have struggled to deal with Lionel Messi last night. 15 years I've been watching football and that is probably the best individual performance I've seen by an opposition player.
So there really is no shame in being knocked out of the Champions League at the Quarter-Final stage by the best team in Europe. It's four quarter-finals in five years which is a record not many teams can compete with. Every Gooner would love to see us win that trophy and although the quarter-finals is preferable to being a Spud and desperately trying to qualify every year, although it's better than nothing, although it is amazing considering the club's transfer budget, it would be nice to go further and win the damn competition.
To do so, there will have to be a few changes in the summer. But right now, there's five games left until the end of the season. It's almost the end of our fourth year at The Grove. It's a stadium which deserves some silverware, so lets give it some. A League title and the disappointment of last night in the Nou Camp will be forgotten.
There is one piece of good news amidst all this: our next game is at 3 Point Lane.
Keep the faith,