Cesc Fabregas declared his nightmare return to the Nou Camp as "one of the worst moments of my life" and accepted "full blame" for Arsenal's UEFA Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona.
The Gunners had Robin van Persie controversially sent off as they were knocked out of Europe by the Spanish giants for the second successive season, with a 3-1 reverse meaning a 4-3 aggregate exit. The Dutchman was a shock inclusion for Arsenal, who led 2-1 from the first leg, having recovered quicker than expected from the knee injury he sustained in the League Cup final.
However, moments after an own goal from Sergio Busquets had cancelled out Lionel Messi's fine opener following a terrible mistake by Fabregas, Van Persie was dismissed by the referee. The Dutchman had already been booked in the first half and was shown a second yellow card for lashing the ball towards goal after a marginal offside call which the Arsenal striker claimed he could not hear.
Barcelona took full advantage, with Xavi and then Messi's penalty putting the tie beyond Arsene Wenger's men, who were left to reflect on what might have been and must now regroup for Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Premier League title rivals Manchester United. Fabregas, returning to his boyhood club for the first time, had earlier inexplicably tried to backheel the ball to Jack Wilshere on the edge the Arsenal penalty area, but gave it straight to Andres Iniesta - who set up Messi to put Barcelona ahead in first-half stoppage time.
The Spain FIFA World Cup™ winner, substituted with 12 minutes remaining, was left bitterly disappointed by his own contribution after coming back from a hamstring injury. "I take full blame for the result tonight," Fabregas said on his Twitter account. "One of the worst moments of my life. I apologise."
Midfielder Jack Wilshere felt the red card decision had been key and believes Arsenal must put the incident out of their minds as they focus on completing a league and FA Cup double. "I thought we dealt with it quite well, but if there is any team you don't want to go down to ten men against, it is Barcelona," he said. "We got a goal back - which was the aim - and were pushing them, then Robin went off and we had to defend. Maybe we just ran out of legs in the end."
Arsenal were dealt another injury blow when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny suffered a dislocated finger when he saved Dani Alves' free-kick after 16 minutes. The young Pole could now be facing an extended spell on the sidelines, leaving Manuel Almunia as the only fit senior keeper available.