Robin van Persie described Arsenal's Champions League exit as "a joke" last night after the striker's second-half sending-off tipped the balance in favour of Barcelona.
Van Persie picked up his second yellow card of the night after appearing not to hear referee Massimo Busacca's whistle and shooting wide after the flag had been raised for offside. "How could I hear with 95,000 screaming?" the Dutch striker said.
"We feel betrayed, everyone fought so hard. When it was 1-1, it was all to play for. In my opinion, the referee killed the game. It had a big influence on the result. When there are four, five or six seconds after the whistle and you make a chip or something then I can understand a card but there was one second from his whistle to my shot.
"The referee was bad all evening whistling against us. I did try to explain that there were 95,000 people jumping up and so how could I hear his whistle? And he just said: 'Second yellow.' It's unbelievable."
Van Persie started the game after Arsène Wenger decided the Dutchman had recovered sufficiently from his recent knee injury to play. The manager also gambled on the fitness of Cesc Fabregas, and the club captain looked off the pace and had a poor game. Last night, Fabregas posted on Twitter that he was sorry for his below-par performance. "I take full blame for the result tonight. One of the worst moments of my life. I apologise," he wrote.
Wenger was left fuming in the tunnel with match officials after the game. "If you have ever played football in a game at that level with people shouting then you don't make that decision," he said of the referee's decision to send off Van Persie. "He [Busacca] must absolutely never have played football to make a decision like that. There is no explanation and I told him what I think about his decision face to face. I think there is not a lot more to say about it."
Wenger's confrontation with the referee has gone into Busacca's report and the Arsenal manager could now face disciplinary action. After conducting his post-match interviews, the Frenchman sought out the referee again to remonstrate further with him.
Wenger echoed Van Persie's sentiments that the decision robbed Arsenal of a chance to win the tie. "We were beaten by a terrific side, certainly the best in Europe," he said. "But I am still convinced that in the second half they weakened a lot. At 1-1, if it had stayed 11 against 11, we would have won this tie."
Arsenal failed to muster a single attempt on goal but Wenger blamed Van Persie's sending-off for the failure to test Victor Valdes.
He said: "Once you are down to 10 men it's very difficult. We suffered in the first half but it would have been a game of two halves tonight. My team's fighting spirit deserved a chance to stay 11 against 11 and then if we go out, we would have accepted it. But the way we did, it's very difficult to accept."
Andres Iniesta was the architect of Barcelona's first goal, brilliantly dispatched by Lionel Messi. After Sergio Busquets had put through his own goal from a Samir Nasri corner Arsenal looked back in the game but they were undone by Xavi Hernandez who put Barcelona 2-1 up from another pass from Iniesta.
Arsenal did their best to hang on but when Pedro was brought down by Laurent Koscielny, Manuel Almunia – who had done well after replacing Wojciech Szczesny in the first half – was powerless to stop the world's best player from the penalty spot.
Arsenal's misery was compounded by injuries to Fabregas and Szczesny, who has a dislocated finger and could miss the rest of the season.