After watching last night I'm not sure whether to be hugely embarrassed, disappointed, deflated, angry, proud in parts or totally robbed?
I guess the first thing that we have to hold our hands up to is the fact that Barcelona aren't just good, they're amazing. There is simply no other team out there that can play football at that intensity, with that skill and verve for that long with an end result.
Watching Barcelona is a tiring experience. There movement and deft passing is so quick, sometimes your eyes can't keep up. Arsenal probably feel how Michelangelo felt when he was introduced to the spotty nerd on an Apple Mac churning out similar work in minutes rather than years.
For me though, there are a number of absolute sickeners that leave me with a nasty, did you garnish my burger with battery acid, taste in my mouth.
The first massive slice of bad luck came in the opening ten minutes. Chezzer saved a Dani Alves freekick, he dropped down to smother the ball and pulled up. We all hoped he'd stubbed his finger, but he signalled to the bench that he needed to come off. Apparently he may have ruptured a tendon in his hand. Fantastic, if true, he's out for the season.
Almunia kitted up to 90% horror amongst the faithful. However, it must be noted that he was incredibly impressive in the first half.
Arsenal were not thought. We managed averagely 30 percent possession and I believe the official Opta stats have us down for making two touches in the opposition half. You can be excused for not dominating Barcelona, however, you cannot be excused for rudimentary mistakes like poor control and shocking passes. Pretty much the only way we could get the ball out of their half was to hoof it.
Still, we were keeping a clean sheet. Our full backs were having a bit of a nightmare, but the centre backs were mopping up very well against all the odds.
Jack Wilshere was keeping the fire going in the middle of the park with some driving runs and more heart and passion than should be legal for one so young. Robin Van Persie was putting himself about a bit. At times, especially when I saw the 30% possession stat go up, I felt like a Stoke fan. When we started with the indicipline, in the back of my mind, I thought the only way we'd be able to control this game was with violence.
Robin Van Persie summed this up when he ran for the ball and smacked Alves in the face. At the time I thought it was funny... how I'd later rue that joke of a booking.
Cesc Fabregas was having an appalling game. I read on twitter that he'd admitted to Spanish press he was injured as early as the 15th minute. I have my doubts about that, though at least that would give and excuse for his totally pedestrian performance. Where was our Captain when we needed him? Where was his leadership? At times he seemed like the good player on the school team who'd been ask to play with the special kids.
The fact that we'd managed to scramble our way into the 47th minute of the first half relatively unscathed was a miracle, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when Cesc had the arrogance to attempt a back heel 1-2 with Jack Wilshere on the edge of the box was awful. You knew what was coming. Iniesta picked up the loose ball, slipped in Messi who chipped over Almunia and volleyed home.
I was gob smacked. You know, the same gob smacked I was when Cesc handled the ball against Spurs earlier in the season.
Still, the simple fact was, one goal and we were right back in it. That's all I had in my mind at half time.
We came out for the second half, we managed to land ourselves a corner early on. Nasri slipped it into a dangerous area, Diaby did his classic run, jump, miss routine... luckily for him 3 Barca players were fooled by his slick move and Busquets dropped the ball into his own net.
We were back in this. Barcelona now needed two for the victory, one for the draw. This gave me a degree of comfort.
The next bad piece of luck was when Robin was played into the box, he was ruled offside, he hit his shot anyway in one movement, the referee deemed this dissent and gave him a second yellow card.
Off he went. A ridiculous decision. However, not one that went against the grain. This referee was totally under qualified to referee a game of such importance. I know I have been calling for foreign referees in the Premiership, but I'm talking about the best from the best leagues. Last nights game should have been officiated by a top Italian official. Someone used to world class players. How can anyone from Switzerland be qualified to manage that game? It's an absolute disgrace and another pathetic attempt at equality from people who know nothing about the game.
It ruined the tie...
Arsenal now had to face the Barcelona onslaught with 10 men.
Almuina continued his heroics between the sticks making a number of incredible saves. However, it was only so long before the home side found a way through. Iniesta picking out Xavi who found the back of the net.
Still, it wasn't over, they needed another to secure the win.
That didn't take long. Pedro, a player who I can only describe as looking like a dodgy pool cleaner, broke into the box, Kozzer threw out a leg, the Spaniard went down, Messi buried the penalty.
Still, all we needed was 1 more goal to secure the win.
This team didn't have it in them though. Their legs were shot to pieces, as was their confidence. There was so little desire to get forward in the end, you wondered if the boys knew they only needed one goal to qualify? Arshavin and Bendtner came on. With Andrey it felt like too little too late, with Nik Bendtner, it felt like trying to win the Afghan Conflict by introducing the bow and arrow. Jack Wilshere made a super run, he slipped a perfect ball into Bendtner who controlled the ball with his wrong foot and lost out to Mascharano and Valdes.
That one moment summed up our striking outside of Robin Van Persie.
The referee blew up, Arsenal looked down the barrel off yet another Champions League failure and anyone who dared to look will have noticed we now have to head to Old Trafford with no keeper, possibly an injured captain and possibly and injured striker.
Is this a late Ground Hog day, or do these boys really have mental strength?
Which way is our season heading after that schooling because we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves and I really don't think resting a whole team for the FA Cup is the way forward. If there is to be no Champions League, we need to make sure there is a cup double rescuing our season. Losing to our title rivals simply is not an option and I'll be disgusted if that is a route we take 3 games away from a trophy.
The simple fact is, we can pin last night squarely at the feet of Arsene Wenger. Shaktar Donestk are sitting pretty in the quarter finals right now after defeating a poor Roma side. We won the first three games of our Champions League group then decided that we were good enough to field weakened teams for the Braga and Donestk game. We brought our early exit on ourselves, we knew the consequences of finishing second and as a result, our European dream is over again.
Still, I won't leave you on a negative. I thought it only fair to say that the two outstanding players of last night were Jack Wilshere and Almunia. Big Al came on in one of the hardest games in football and performed heroics time and time again. He must have made at least 10 world class stops last night and for a keeper who has very little confidence at the moment I thought that was impressive.
Jack Wilshere is everything you dream of in a player, he has a great touch, great vision and he fights like a pit bull terrier on the pitch. Based on last nights performance, he is the only player who has the work ethic to play for the opposition. That was a magnificent performance from him in poor circumstances.
We've got a gem on our hands there, if we're going to pull ourselves out of this hole now, we'll need the rest of the squad to show the same spirit he does week in, week out.
See you in the comments.