With the surprise that Robin van Persie was to start and Sergio Busquets was going to play in defense, the game itself started with no real surprises and Barcelona kept to their usual play and tried to play through ball after through ball, trying to find an opening, but in the first 10 minutes nothing came of it and Arsenal’s high line and goalkeeper Szczesny dealt with them perfectly fine. Arsenal too kept to their game, and tried to play there way out of trouble from the back, with Fabregas and Nasri doing so without any problems. But Djourou gave away possession and left Koscielny one on one with Messi, with Messi running at goal Koscielny did well to close the space and push Messi wide. Barcelona were being kept out but Arsenal defending with had been spot on. With Barcelona’s movement they always found people in space and a chance came, but the ball was cleared with a hurried hoof out for a throw in. Koscielny brought down Pedro for a free kick, and received a yellow card for it. The resulting free kick was shot hard and direct but Daniel Alves which Szczesny saved but in doing so injured his finger and had to receive treatment on the pitch for it. Almunia was stripped off and ready to go and did come on for an obviously disappointed Szczesny. Thought back to the champions league final when Almunia came on for Pires when Lehmann was sent off came to mind, a game in which Arsenal led but lost 2-1 . Though Arsenal were playing a high line , the Arsenal attack were very deep, trying to crowd the midfield, but left Arsenal short of any attacking options, and with 25 minutes gone, Arsenal had not been any kind of threat, but had dealt with Barcelona well, cutting out any through ball and defending well. Nasri went down to an Alves tackle which he won and no foul was given, but played was stopped so Nasri could receive the little treatment he needed. In viewing the replay though you could see that after he had won the ball , he did seem to clamp his legs round Nasri leg to bring him down. Barcelona where the better on the ball, but both teams where not as slick with their passing as they could have been. Barcelona had a good chance 26 minutes in but Djourou did well to tackle Xavi off the ball and Pedro’s curling shot went wide. Barcelona again attempted their trademark diagonal through ball, but they just were not coming off, but Messi almost went on to score all by himself, going past Djourou nd the Koscielny and Clichy but Djourou didnt give up and cleared the ball away from Messi’s feet. Wenger was not happy with the referee for not giving a foul on Nasri earlier on but the referee seemed to make it even by not giving a foul on Messi, but seeing the replay it amazing he didnt as Diaby clearly swept his feet away from him. Villa came close for Barcelona but his good enough and shot was just not good enough and was Almunia first real touch, his second on the other hand his second not long after was to clear the ball which hit Koscielny. Messi was coming deep to collect the ball and run at Arsenal but Djourou was like a hoover the way he would take up the loose ball from Messi. Adriano ran through down the left and from an acute angle blasted a shot which hit the post, it bounced out but Barcelona did get anything from it. Almunia was lucky it hit the post as he had his hands in the air leaving it to go out. Barcelona got a free kick as a result from a tackle by Wilshire, but Messi’s free kick hit the wall and went out for a throw in. Barcelona get possession well, keeping the ball probing for space. Daniel Alves went down injured when Clichy clipped him when trying to clear the ball but nothing came from it. Eric Abidal passed it to Messi but carried on his run and Messi returned it for Abidal to shot, but was blocked off. Rosicky and Abidal went for the same ball and Rosicky won it, but they seemed to clash when they both had their feet raised and Abidal went down but play continued. Play did eventual stop but Abidal stayed on the pitch. With the last few minutes to go Arsenal seemed to fo on the attack more, and Wilshire put in a lofted pass and van Persie did well to try and dribble his way through, and even though the ball went off him somehow the referee assistant awarded a corner. From that corner Wilshire received the ball but was tackled which he went down too, but again no foul was given but when play was stopped there seemed to have raised the pressure and Abidal had his hand round van Persie’s throat. Not long after play resumed van Persie nudged Alves down with a little bit of venom, and Alves went down clutching his face van Perise got a card for it but it was yellow. Arsenal and Barcelona seemed to adopt a more physical game than their usual beautiful football. Messi almost scored on the when Barcelona went on the counter attack and with Iniesta in acres of space he had the time to dribble in and pass to Messi who cut into the penalty area and past Clichy but his shot went straight down the middle, but one moments later Messi did score when Almunia through out the ball he had saved from Messi Nasri he tried to play it ro Fabregas but it was intercepted, Barcelona passed it around, until they found a way through Xavi received the ball on the edge of the area but was swamped by Arsenal players and Djourou pass it out to Fabregas who then for some reason tried to backheel it to Wilshire even though there were two Barcelona player by him. It didnt reach Wilshire and Iniesta dinked it through to Messi who timed his run perfectly and slightly controlled it with the outside of his left and the flicked it delicately over the on rushing Almunia and the waited for the ball to come down before volleying it into an empty net. A great goal that was spawned from a terrible piece of stupidity. The goal came in the 47 minute and with the extra time played for the treatment received for Szczesny over the first half ended 1-0 with advantage now in Barcelona’s favour.
Update on Szczesny: It seems he doesn’t had a dislocation, but may have tendon problems, if it is ruptured then his season could be over.
Arsenal started the second half playing much higher up the pitch than in the first half, much like they were just near the end of the first half just before they had conceded. Arsenal did get forward but when van Persie knocked the ball up for Diaby when Diaby headed it down for the return of van Persie, van Persie wasnt there and Barcelona broke on the counter, Messi was tackled by Clichy and it went out for a corner but nothing came from it. Barcelona kept the pressure up and soon had another corner when Djourou blocked and incoming cross. but again nothing came of it. Arsenal went on the attack with Nasri running at Barcelona and got a free kick. And Arsenal, surprisingly, Scored from the penalty and it was an own goal by Busquets. Diaby raised well for it, but he missed it and it hit Busquets and in. Arsenal were now back in the tie, but were almost a goal down again as Barcelona went on the attack straight from the kick off and David Villa found himself one on one with Almunia but was unable to score. Robin van Persie then was sent off for a soft second yellow card. when he was on the attack he was offside but he played on controlling and the shooting,. but the referee didnt take the plead of van Persie that he couldn’t hear because of the noise and received a second yellow. There was apparently only just over a second between the referee blowing the whistle and van Persie shooting. a very very weak red card, and a poor decision by the referee. Barcelona again came close to scoring when Villa was again denied by Almunia. Wilshire was playing well nipping at the heels of the Barcelona players and stealing the ball of them, but doing well with possession afterwards. Adriano step over, shot come cross over. Arsenal went on the attack, but with van Persie off, Arsenal were short at the back and Barcelona went on to try to exploit it, but the pull back didnt find anyone and then when Pedro did shoot, it when well over. Arsenal almost came up trumps when the dallied on the ball, but luckily for them Barcelona were unable capitalise. Arsenal tried to attack, but when they did it was only one player up in the attacking side of the field, and Arsenal couldn’t make anything stick. Barcelona kept trying to find they way in to score, but Arsenal held firm and tried to counter but with 8 of the 9 outfield players back, Barcelona kept regaining possession. The game was on a knife edge knowing that another goal would put the game into extra time and the advantage to Barcelona playing the numbers game, and David Villa again came close, but Almunia denied him again. Barcelona did get their second and it was scored by Xavi and it was a typical Barcelona goal. They passed and moved right down the middle of Arsenal’s defense. Iniesta passed it to Villa after going past the Arsenal players too easy, and Villa played in Xavi first time and Xavi coolly scored past Almunia. By now Arsenal were static and letting Barcelona play the ball around moment later Barcelona ere awarded a penalty when Koscileny brought down Pedro. Messi stepped up to take and calmly and coolly scored leaving Almunia crouching, he didnt even move, but to watch it go in. That put the tie to 4-3 to Barcelona, but if Arsenal found a goal, at 4-4 on aggregate that would see Arsenal through, but either way that goal saw that the game wouldn’t go to extra time. With the extra man, Barcelona were finding space even more, and even started wasting good chances. Arshavin came on for Rosicky to try and find the goal that they needed. Arsenal did try and attack Barcelona and Diaby got through but was unable to shoot. With Arshavin on, Arsenal did look more dangerous and more adventurous going forward, but they couldn’t find anyone in the box and were unable to get a shot off. Fabregas went off for Bendtner, partly tactical partly saving Fabregas, but he had not had the best of games. Barcelona again on the attack and Villa played in Messi but Almunia saved well with his feet to deny Messi his hat-trick. Going into the last 10 minutes Arsenal were still playing deep and Barcelona were just passing it around, but always probing for someone to become free to cause an attack, but with 67% of possession by that point and 16 attempts to Arsenal none, it was clear Barcelona were in control of the game. Barcelona almost scored when Xavi lifted the ball over the defense for Messi to run on to but was saved and Messi of offside. David Villa came off for the dutch youngster Ibrahim Afellay on the 81st. Villa was unlucky not to have scored, with Almunia denying him time after time, but Afellay almost made an instant impact running in at gaol from Mascherano’s through ball, but his shot was wide and struck with him off balance. Iniesta then played in Alves beautifully but Alves was crowded out by Koscielny and Djourou. Arsenal by now very so static that they just let Barcelona play it around, and seemed dead on their feet to chase down anyone, and Barcelona had an effort when Afellay shot but Almunia again was there to save it. Barcelona wasted another chance to put the tie fully past Arsenal when Alves was played in and half shot and half crossed it across goal for it to go out for a goal kick. Arsenal had a chance to score when Barcelona lost all concentration when they played the free kick short and Wilshire quickly closed down teh man in possession and Arshavin Nicked it away from him and played it to Wilshire who then played in Bendtner, who scored at the Nou Camp last season, but he was unable to control it and in the end unabel to get a shot and Valdes dived down to grab it off him. Barcelona again on the attack down the right with Alves again in acres of space ran at the defense and cut in, but was unable to get a shot away. Arsenal had 4 minutes of extra time to find the goal they needed, but it didnt come. It almost seemed like some of the Arsenal players didn’t realise that one goal would put them through and there was never a real dash to get the goal, as if they were all out to get that goal but then conceded the fans would understand, and in the end the game ended 3-1 seeing Barcelona through, but again Arsenal fans will be feel aggrieved with playing the worlds best team with 10 men and looking back on the game thinking what could have been. But in the end Arsenal had themselves to blame even with the fresh legs of Arshavin and Bendtner, they never seemed to come deep enough to get the ball and push on . Barcelona won, and coud have scored more, Barcelona finished deserved winners. In a game where Barcelona had 19 shots with 10 on target compared to Arsenal where didn’t have a single shot on or off target, and Arsenal had 31% possession compared to Barcelona 69% and with that Arsenal having only 59% pass completion (199 passes complete) to Barcelona’s 84%, being a whopping 724 passes complete.
Arsenal are now left to concentrate on the Premiership and FA Cup, which they play against Manchester United in the Quatre-final in three days time.