Saturday, 12 March 2011

Done by the referee. Barcelona trip report.

Barcelona 3 Arsenal 1

There's been a lot of rubbish written about this match, and it's worth debunking some of it...

Myth No.1: Van Persie's red card wasn't a turning point
In the first half of the game, Barcelona managed one goal - a goal which was entirely of our own making.

Zonal Marking made the point that:

Fabregas’ backheel was a ludicrous decision, but Barca’s pressing can take some of the credit. Not just because there was a player closing down and intercepting at that moment, but because the pressure for 45 minutes had created the backheel. A backheel is something that you try on the edge of the opposition box, when you’re under pressure and need to do something ‘clever’ to get past an opponent. Fabregas is far from a stupid player, but Barcelona were pressuring so much that he felt he had to do something ‘clever’ merely to complete a pass on the edge of his own penalty area.

But I don't agree with that. They had pressed us up until that point without forcing a mistake - what Cesc did was stupid, not clever. He could have legitimately hoofed the ball out, as it was almost half-time.

And that was the one goal Barca scored before Robin went off. Adriano has a chance, but basically that was it.

And, crucially, at the time Van Persie was sent off, Barca needed to score two goals without reply to qualify. That's a whole lot easier, when the opposition only has ten men.

To go back to their pressing, it becomes even harder to play against with ten men, because there's one fewer person offering an option, etc.

Myth No. 2: Barcelona dominated throughout
There's been a lot of criticism of the manager's comments that it was a 'sterile domination' - presumably because Arsenal manage that quite a lot - but there's no avoiding the fact that before Van Persie was sent off, Adriano had a shot from a tight angle, there was the one straight at Chesney which injured him, and there was Messi's goal - and that all Barca had created.

Yes, they had a lot of the ball; yes, they had a lot of territory; but they weren't doing anything with it.

With an extra man, then they dominated and repeatedly cut us open - and my man Almunia did really well to keep us in the game.

And that's why the red card decision is such a terrible one - because it completely changed the flow of the game. I hope Busacca is punished for what was, a truly ludicrous decision.

Myth No.3: Arsenal deserved to lose because they had no shots
Ignoring the fact we scored a goal from our pressure, there are two points here - firstly, we didn't need to shoot, we weren't chasing the game. When it was 11 vs 11, we were behind for 8 minutes - that isn't a sign of a team just set up to defend and with no way of changing their tactics.

We were dreadful going forward in the first half, I don't deny that, but we were really coming into the game at the beginning of the second. We were already level and Robin was only marginally offside when he was given that stupid second booking.

I honestly believe that if he hadn't been sent off, we would have won the tie - and also had several shots.

All the history shows that Arsenal play best in the final quarter against Barcelona - and we weren't given the chance to do that, because of the referee. I think the manager is right they would have tired, but we weren't given the opportunity to take advantage.


It was a fun trip - Barcelona is a lovely city - and if the big Dane had converted at the end, we still could have gone through.

That said, there's something a little odd about how the Barca fans in the Camp Nou behave - for a team who are supposed to be proud of playing football in the right spirit, the way their fans whistle when the other team have the ball is really distasteful. And it also means I fully sympathise with Robin when he says he couldn't hear the whistle - I certainly didn't.

The big question now, is how do we recover from this unfortunate defeat - hopefully we can beat Man United, and kick on and win the Double.

Keep the faith.

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