Massimo Busacca 3-1 Arsenal: Gutsy Performance in Hopeless Circumstances

Words cannot express how proud I am of the Arsenal on this day. Whatever else you can say about the team's predilection towards arrogance in lesser games, on a day where a lot was at stake and on a day where the circumstances made it a foregone conclusion, this team showed the character of champions today.

Make no mistake - this was never a sporting contest. In no sense of the word did Arsenal have any legitimate chance to win this game on an even playing field.

Photo: Photoshopped, naturally

From the opening whistle on, it was painfully apparent that there were two sets of rules - the home side could get away with impunity on any infraction they made, while Arsenal were cautioned for harmless fouls. Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna were both yellow-carded for absolutely fuck all in the first half hour, with Jack Wilshere soon following in the book. It's bad enough having to defend against this lot in any situation, but having three key players cautioned so soon and for no good reason on top of it was just taking the piss.

And word, did Arsenal defend brilliantly in the first half. Koscielny had a very good game with some nice saving tackles, but Johan Djourou was just immense. For me, he was the Man of the Match by some distance. When others around him were beaten, Djourou was just about always there to clear our lines. Wilshere threw himself with abandon into every tackle, and gave every ounce of himself to the cause. Samir Nasri tracked back when he had to, and while Abou Diaby was execrable on offense (more on that in a bit), in fairness to him he did break up his share of Barcelona attacks as well.

I have to say it again...I'm so proud of this team right now, I could burst. And, you regular readers know how harsh I've been on them all season.

The first bit of misfortune came right around the 19th minute, when Wojciech Szezcsny made a routine catch on a bouncing ball. He immediately winced in pain, and threw the ball out into touch. You know, it's just one of those things...any goalkeeper makes a catch like that an innumerable amount of times in practice every day, let alone in games. I don't know if he broke his finger (hell, I did that a few months back on a routine dive) or if the rumors about tearing a tendon in his finger are true, but he was substituted immediately (to massive groans from the Blind Pig faithful) for Manuel Almunia.

Since we're on the subject, a word about the Spaniard. I've been the first to harp on him for some of the hideous mistakes he's made along the way...and I still think he's nowhere near a good enough keeper for Arsenal over the long haul. But, today the man was simply magnificent. He did not have a chance on any of the three Barca goals, and he at times single-handedly kept the score close with well-timed runs off of his line to block at a striker's feet. I even said it in the first Leyton Orient game - Almunia's problem is never with quick reactions. It's just on long shots and instances where he has to think where he gets inside his own head and causes himself problems. That's not Barca's style though, so Manuel was more than up to the task of just about everything they threw at him.

That said, Arsenal found themselves down 1-0 (and tied 2-2 on aggregate) thanks to an unforgivably stupid mistake from Cesc Fabregas. Even with that, it's an illustration though of how unfortunate we were as a whole...the half probably would have been over at that point if Szezcsny didn't get injured. Anyway, Fabregas got far too cute with the ball just outside of our own penalty area, attempting to back-heel it to a teammate. Some Barca guy (don't care who, frankly) sent Messi in with a brilliant through-ball, beating the Arsenal center-halves. Almunia was off his line quick enough, but Messi flicked the ball over him and back to himself, leaving him an empty net to lash it into for the goal. Really, all you can do is tip your cap to him for the finish, but what on earth was Fabregas thinking about there?

So, Barca were ahead at halftime on the away-goals rule, but there was everything to play for. Remember, Arsenal were 1-0 down in the home leg of this tie as well. Sure enough, less than 10 minutes had passed in the second half before the men in yellow took the lead on aggregate. Nasri took the ball in his own half and eviscerated several Barca defenders on his way towards winning a corner. The little Frenchman took it himself, and while there weren't any Arsenal players in the immediate vicinity of it, fortune smiled on us for the only time on the day. Makeshift center-half Sergio Busquets, forced out of his customary midfield role due to injuries to others, managed to get a head onto it. Unfortunately for him, it sailed into the bottom corner of the net while Victor Valdes could only stand and watch.

Well, how about that? 3-2 on aggregate, now they have to score two to win.

For the next minute or two, Barcelona did not look like the same team. Gone was the mystique, so briefly gone was the aura of invincibility. Arsenal started to see the ball more often, and it was in an all-too-rare sortie upfield when disaster struck. Before we get to that though, we have to rewind a bit and travel back in time to the first half.

As I mentioned, Barcelona got away with whatever they wanted to in this game. They were able to kick the Arsenal players at will with nothing in the way of admonishment (as it happens, they finished a highly contentious match with exactly 0 yellow cards and only 8 fouls called against, despite the fact that Eric Abidal should have walked when he had his hand around van Persie's throat). Robin van Persie was kicked off the ball in first-half stoppage time, to which he responded by seeking out a Barca player after the goal kick and violently fouling him. Let's be crystal clear about this one - it was an incredibly stupid and indescribably selfish yellow card to take in a game of this magnitude. Away to Stoke in the second game of the Premier League season, then fine...fight back a little. But with a referee clearly favoring the home team in a situation like this, you just let it go. Man up, grit your teeth and deal with it.

Still, that does not excuse referee Massimo Busacca for perhaps the single worst red-card decision I have ever seen in my life (and I don't forget Emmanuel Petit getting sent off for Paul Durkin running into him in that match against Villa back in 1998). van Persie was called for yet another dubious offside, but he followed through and took a shot on goal. Technically, the referee is within his rights to give a yellow card in that case for delaying the game. However, the shot was taken no more than a second or two after the whistle went, and in all likelihood van Persie never heard it go off (never mind the fact that Barcelona did the same thing on at least two occasions later on in the game with not even a talking-to happening for the perpetrators). While Busacca gets off on a technicality because of the letter of the law, no sensible referee EVER shows a red card there. Even if you think it's intentional, a stern talking-to is the preferred course of action in that case. If this happened to me in a rec-league game, I'd be banned for life because quite frankly, I would kick the shit out of the referee right there.

Three minutes after Arsenal took the lead in the tie, Busacca killed the game off by showing van Persie a red card he never deserved. I don't care who you are, you can't have 10 men and hold off this team for any length of time. We were on a hiding to nothing at that bravely as we defended throughout the game, it was only a matter of time before Barcelona got the two goals they needed to win the tie.

What can you say? This game was booked by Vince McMahon.

Photo: The Sun

Arsenal held out for 15 minutes, but sure enough at that point Xavi was in alone and made no mistake with his finish. Even then, it was 20 minutes away from extra time as it was 3-3 on aggregate and 1-1 on away goals. But, Busacca wasn't going to let that happen...of course he wasn't. Two minutes later, some Barcelona jerkoff was theatrically falling over the leg of Koscielny (my god, if he didn't have the devil's own blackest luck, he'd have none at all), and Messi easily tucked away the penalty kick.

Game, set and match. The rest of the 19 minutes were no more than kabuki theater, played out because the laws of the game dictate it had to. Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner came on, but nothing much changed. Bendtner had one half-chance late on where his first touch betrayed him...but let's be honest. Even if he had scored, Busacca would have found some excuse to send someone off or award another penalty in the 7th minute of injury time.

I don't know if it was sheer incompetence or a FIFA directive bought and paid for, but we were never going to be allowed to win this game. I would never say such a thing lightly, but I absolutely believe that to be the case today.

Because of that, I place far less of the blame for this at the feet of Arsene Wenger than I normally would. But, that doesn't mean I'm going to totally let him off the hook. How you pick Tomas Rosicky to play in this game in the terrible form that he's in is simply insane. You can bag on Arshavin's lack of defensive capability all you want, but it's bad enough that we had to play Diaby in this one (at times, he was Barcelona's best player when we had the ball)...Rosicky was absolute toilet today...yet again. How many times does he have to stink the joint out before something is done?

Not only that, but while you have to expect Barcelona to have most of the ball in the Nou Camp, the truth of the matter is that we did have zero shots on target the entire match and probably only had 30% of the possession. I stop short of saying that Barca absolutely deserved to win anyway because they spurned a lot of their chances (how often is the narrative that we deserved to win when we outshoot someone 20-1 and lose 0-1? Oh, right, FUCKING NEVER), but I can't help but think that Wenger was well-beaten tactically today by his opposite number, Pep Guardiola.

Anyway, I won't waste any further words on this. This was a farce and our fate was predestined in some fucking boardroom I won't dwell on it any further. I congratulate Arsenal Football Club for conducting ourselves impeccably in the face of ridiculous injustice, and hope that this will spur the team on to a glorious League and FA Cup Double in the weeks ahead. Over to you, lads.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szezcsny 6 (Almunia 8), Clichy 7, Koscielny 8, Djourou 9 (MOTM), Sagna 7, Nasri 8, Wilshere 8, Diaby 5, Fabregas 5 (Bendtner 5), Rosicky 3 (Arshavin 7), van Persie 5