In the space of a couple of weeks, Arsenal have crashed out of two competitions and face the prospect of losing their double hopes if they lose to Manchester United tomorrow. Yet, it could have been so different for Arsenal. Many people, following the victory at the Emirates, believed Arsenal had what it took to defeat Barcelona and progress further. So now many are asking, had Robin Van Persie not been harshly sent off, could Arsenal have done the ‘impossible’?
Wednesday morning’s back pages did not concentrate on the Barcelona performance, but rather highlighted the role of the referee in Arsenal’s defeat. This was a very disappointing aspect to the match, with many hoping for invisible refs and time and time again being are let down. So, as all agree that the decision to award a red card to RVP was a shocker, now we must look at how well Arsenal would have done with the full eleven players on the pitch. The key to this argument is the fact that having just conceded a goal to give Arsenal a foothold in the match, Barcelona’s players were rattled. The dismissal served as a calming measure for the Catalans and they produced the best move of the game ten minutes later to carve open the Arsenal defense and level the scores on aggregate. The extra man told further into the game as Barca’s intricate passing bewitched Arsenal’s ragged and exhausted players. Were it not for a combination of Almunia’s excellent keeping and Barcelona’s poor finished, Barcelona could have posted an embarrassing score-line.
Yet, before the red card, Barcelona did not have the vast amount of chances they created later in the game; and had it not been for a piece of foolishness from Fabregas then the score line would have remained scoreless at half time on the night, with Arsenal retaining their first leg lead. Even after conceding, Arsenal were always in with a chance if they kept to one goal of Barça, and could have stolen it at the end with Bendtner miss-cueing a late chance. One must consider what would have happened had RVP been offered such a chance. Also, with their Dutch marksman on the pitch, Arsenal would have had a greater outlet to counter as Barcelona pushed forwards and left gaps at the back. These gaps would surely have appeared with Barcelona seemingly a less fit team than their English counterparts, as shown in the first leg. Arsenal came back into that game, and with eleven players they could just as easily have got back into this one.
Personally, however, despite Barcelona’s susceptibility to the counter-attack, I believe they would have been more determined and clinical had Arsenal proved a greater threat in the second half with their Champions League status under threat. Even with eleven men, arsenal had zero shots and RVP had no touches in the Barcelona box. I would go as far to say that Arsenal were lucky to be in the tie at the point of their equaliser in the Camp Nou. Barcelona had a perfectly legitimate second away goal chalked out in the first leg and missed chance after chance, and in the second leg they were denied a stonewall penalty. So overall, the referee decisions evened out and I believe that Barcelona would still have had too much for Arsenal. They were the superior side and as a Spanish newspaper put it, “Barcelona dominated in every area except for the score line.”