Arsenal's improbable dream of winning the European Cup ended in a frustrating, emotionally-drained defeat to Barcelona last night with captain Thierry Henry raging against the performance of referee Terje Hauge, and manager Arsène Wenger saying that one of his assistants had acted "suspiciously".
Henry was furious with Hauge. "I don't know if the referee was in a Barcelona shirt," he said, referring to the controversy which led to another of the Norwegian's assistants being replaced on the morning of the game for wearing one. "If the referee did not want us to win he should have said so. Some of the calls were strange. I expect the referee to do his job properly. I'd have liked to have seen a proper referee."
Henry believed Arsenal, who played for more than an hour with 10 men after Jens Lehmann's red card, were the "best team" despite their 2-1 defeat, their first in Europe this season. "We should have had a proper referee," he added in comments that may well land him in trouble of Uefa. "They are already a good team and if you help them it is going to be difficult to beat them," Henry said. "Barcelona had 11 with the referee on their side. Some of the calls by the referee today were horrendous. No disrespect to Barcelona but we played better than them when it was 11 v 11."
Wenger was equally annoyed. He had no complaints over Lehmann's dismissal, and neither did he blame the goalkeeper for up-ending Samuel Eto'o, but was apoplectic over Barça's first goal which he claimed was offside. "My biggest regret was that their first goal was offside," he said. "When you play 11 against 10 and are still on top it's difficult to accept losing the game on the wrong decision. That goal was offside and it is proven on television."
Wenger's frustration was compounded by a belief that Barça "were not especially dangerous or especially creative. We played well and had two or three good chances to score the second goal. I'm angry and very frustrated because I have lost the match and because of the offside goal."
The Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard said that his side's equaliser "seemed to break the spirit inside Arsenal". Wenger said though that despite the lateness of Barça's goals he never felt the trophy was won. "I'm not naïve enough to believe that with 15 minutes to go and just 10 men," he said. "I knew just one lapse of concentration could be costly but I didn't imagine it would take an offside goal."
Wenger declared that his players were "heroes". "Unfortunately they were not rewarded," he added. "We lost one game in the whole European season: the final. It is 10 versus 11 and on a suspicious decision."
The Arsenal manager again admitted that he did not know whether Henry will now decide to stay at the club. But he remained hopeful. However Wenger conceded that he needed a quick decision. "I will try to talk to him because we have to prepare the season," he said. "We have many young players in our team, it is progressing and has a future as a big, big team. But we need Thierry Henry in our team to achieve that."
Man-of-the-match Eto'o revealed that he planned to call Henry later last night. "That's the beautiful thing about football, that we are friends," he said. "He is happy for me but is sad because his team lost." Arsenal fans will pray the two are not team-mates also next season.Reuse content