Much of the post-game analysis following Arsenal’s exit at the hands of Barcelona will be focused upon referee Massimo Busacca, purveyor of one of the most bizarre decisions in recent history. So, I suppose it’s as good a place as any to dig into a game which provided a veritable bounty of talking points.
Early in the second half Robin Van Persie collected a looping pass from Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas in an offside position and sent a shot sailing past Victor Valdez’s left post. It’s the kind of thing happens week in and week out, not just in the Premier League, but all across Europe and on most occasions goes unpunished. On this occasion however, Busacca elected to Van Persie a second yellow card for ‘kicking the ball away’. Confounding.
Sure, if we’re adhering to the rulebook in a sense bordering on the religious, Van Persie’s shot merits a yellow card. But if referees were to follow the exact letter of the law in any given situation regardless of context, or extraneous circumstances, football would be a laughable affair. Massimo Busacca’s failure to judge the situation on its individual merits cost Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger was more than a little disappointed with the decision. In his post-game interview he suggested that Busacca “must never have played football at all to do that”. Robin Van Persie was equally infuriated: “I think it was a total joke. How can I hear his whistle with 95,000 people jumping up?” It’s too much to expect players to listen intently for the ref’s whistle when they ought to be focusing on furthering their team’s cause.
It’s all rendered somewhat irrelevant by the fact that there was a one second gap between the referee blowing his whistle for offside and Van Persie kicking the ball. If he had blown his whistle and then five seconds later Van Persie had taken a shot, the decision to award a yellow card would be understandable. But that wasn’t the case and the Swiss referee has ended up looking anything but neutral.
Of course, the odds are that Barcelona would still have won had Van Persie been on the pitch. I won’t take anything away from Barcelona’s sublime performance – one of the best I’ve seen in Europe in a long time. OptaJoe reports that Arsenal managed just 2 touches inside the Barcelona penalty area in comparison to Barca’s 47 at the other end. Yet that won’t stop those within the Arsenal camp from feeling a burning sense of injustice – from feeling as though they have been cheated out of the chance for Champion’s League glory.
Following on the coat-tails of defeat in the Carling Cup Final, the Gunner’s exit from the Champion’s League marks another low in what has been a difficult couple of weeks for the North London side. It’s up to the players to channel their sense of injustice into something positive – to use it to build towards a future that sees Arsenal reap dividends for all their attractive football.
A couple of weeks ago there was talk about a potential quadruple for the Gunners. Despite recent disappointments, there’s still the FA Cup and the Premier League to play for this season. With Arsenal still very much in contention for both and with a real point to prove, if the Gunner’s approach the remainder of the season with a renewed sense of purpose and focus, it could still be a campaign to remember.
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