Defending a 2-1 home win, Arsenal were desperately close to knocking eventual winners and best team in the world Barcelona out of the Champions League in 2011.
The storylines were all about Robin van Persie’s red card, a late Arsenal miss, the failure to have a single shot at Camp Nou. In England, Arsenal were ridiculed despite coming within a touch of the ball of knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League.
Lining up strongly, unlike in a 4-1 loss a year earlier, Arsenal had to fancy their chances. The team set out to defend deep and stifle the hosts, the greatest attack on the planet, and for a half, it worked. The score remained 0-0 three minutes into first-half stoppage time when Cesc Fàbregas inexplicably backheeled the ball on the edge of his own box. Barcelona scored.
It was only their fourth shot on target in the entire half. One of those was from long range, unfortunately, Dani Alves’ sweetly struck effort was hit so hard it forced Wojciech Szczesny off.
Otherwise, the half had been perfect for the Gunners. No chances had been conceded, so who cares that we hadn’t had a shot?
Going back out after the interval we needed a goal and we got one. Samir Nasri weaved his magic down the flank to win a corner in a rare foray into the opposition half. Sergio Busquets accidentally diverted the corner into his own net and the ball was in Barcelona’s court once more.
Arsenal had one briefly dangerous moment to take the lead in Spain but Robin van Persie was offside. His shot went wide anyway, and he was incredibly shown a second yellow card for dissent. The ball was kicked just a second after the whistle was blown for offside, not five, six seconds. It’s fair to say the Dutchman was furious.
The Gunners had to stay strong for 35 more minutes. They lasted 14 before Barcelona Xavi scored. Just two minutes later Lionel Messi scored from the penalty spot and ended any hope of the tie heading to extra-time.
Manuel Almunia made sure the score remained 3-1 and Arsenal did finally force a chance, Jack Wilshere and Andrei Arshavin pressed to win the ball high and the Englishman released Nicklas Bendtner. The rest is history.
A better referee and Arsenal could’ve knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League. A better touch from Nicklas Bendtner and Arsenal would have.
This time around it will be much much more difficult, having lost at home and conceded two away goals. In 2011, though. We were so close.