This was a chance for the master to teach the pupil a lesson, although Pep Guardiola may now realise that he was doing Wilshere a disservice when he claimed beforehand that the teenager "plays for Arsenal because there is no pressure at his club to win titles". Although Xavi came out on top, Wilshere once again demonstrated why he belongs at this level as the stand out Arsenal performer. He never stopped running and used the ball intelligently on the few occasions Arsenal were in possession, not least when he played Nicklas Bendtner in on goal three minutes from time. Xavi, however, had already worked his magic by that point. The midfielder was predictably at the hub of all of Barcelona's best moves. He scored the second goal, after some splendid link-up play between Andrés Iniesta and David Villa, and executed the killer pass that led to Laurent Koscielny fouling Pedro for Lionel Messi's penalty.
An intriguing battle and one that made it feel like a trick of the imagination that Nasri was the attacking midfielder and Alves the full-back. Alves makes the fourth highest number of touches in the opposition half in La Liga, which seemed like a remarkable statistic before the game but easy to understand once the match got started. There was generally only one player doing the attacking in this clash and he was not wearing an Arsenal shirt. Alves played like the Barcelona right-flank belonged to him, racing forward to give Gaël Clichy, as well as Nasri, something to think about. Nasri worked to track him and he deserved credit for the part he played in the Arsenal goal, when he won and took the corner Sergio Busquets headed into his own goal.
After hugging his Spanish team-mates before the game, Fábregas must have wished he could have got as close to them on the pitch. Desperate to make an impression on his homecoming, the Arsenal captain gifted Barcelona the lead in first half injury-time. It was a moment of madness that encapsulated a miserable evening for Fábregas, who looked like a player that was thinking with his heart and not his head when he declared himself fit. Only he knows why he thought it was a good idea to try to backheel the ball to Wilshere 10 yards outside his own penalty area. It was a measure of how little influence Fábregas had on the game that Mascherano was required to show little of his defensive qualities until he made a superbly timed tackle in the 87th minute to capitalise on Nicklas Bendtner's bad touch. Fábregas had already been subbed.
This will go down as a night both players will want to forget, with Busquets heading into his own net to bring Arsenal back into a game that looked to be beyond them before Van Persie was dismissed in highly controversial circumstances. While the Dutchman was his own worst enemy in the first half, when he lost his composure and picked up an unnecessary yellow card after clashing with Daniel Alves, the second booking Van Persie picked up felt harsh. The Arsenal striker, who had cut a lonely figure up front and given Busquets few problems, claimed he had not heard Massimo Busacca, the Swiss referee, blow his whistle amid the din inside Camp Nou as he raced through and shot wide. It was easy to sympathise with him when it emerged there was only one second between the referee's whistle and Van Persie's boot making contact with the ball.
What should have been a fascinating tactical battle between two erudite managers turned into a game that ended up being mired in controversy after Robin van Persie was dismissed early in the second half in highly contentious circumstances. Wenger will understandably wonder what might have been had Arsenal played with 11 men throughout, although it was impossible to ignore Barcelona's dominance and their control of possession from start to finish. Arsenal opted to play a high defensive line and got away with that approach until Cesc Fábregas's faux pas at the end of the first half, yet it always seemed to be a matter of when and not if Barcelona would score. In hindsight it was a mistake to include Fábregas, who was a peripheral figure and unable to impose himself against what must be the best club side in the world. Guardiola's bad back must be feeling much better already. Stuart James