Assessing the Damage From Champions League DefeatBy: Sairax | March 9th, 2011
Itâ€™s all gone a bit crazy since the game last night. People are upset at the referee, at the players, at Barcelona. Letâ€™s see if I can sift through some of the rubble and see what weâ€™ve been left with here.
Arsene Wenger is not a happy bunny:
“Two kinds of people can be unhappy; those who love Arsenal and those who love football can be frustrated with the referee’s decisions. When he made the decision it was a very promising game, very interesting. Thatâ€™s the regret. We lost against a very good Barcelona side, congratulations to them and good luck for the future. We have many regrets tonight because we didnâ€™t expect to lose the game like that. I feel sorry for people who watched the game tonight.
“If you have played football at a certain level, you cannot understand the decision. I cannot imagine that someone who has played football, in a game of that importance, makes that decision at the moment he did. Even if he heard the whistle, I still donâ€™t understand the decision. People who have played football will never accept a decision like that. It killed a promising, fantastic football match. What for? If itâ€™s a bad tackle and a second-bookable offence then OK.”
RvP had his own little rant after the match and called out the referee. A couple of our players have had a go on twitter. What can I say? I don’t think the ref had a good game. Was he the reason we lost? No. I don’t understand some of his decisions though. Sending off Kos for persistent fouling, I would have understood (can you imagine if Song had played? We would have been down to 10 men after 5 minutes). Giving RvP a second yellow for shooting after the whistle blew seemed really harsh, especially since there was about a second between the whistle and the shot. It upsets me that Barcelona didn’t get at least a yellow for Alves’ scissor tackle or the choke-holds on van Persie and Nasri by Abidal, Valdes, and Adriano. Is grabbing the throat some sort of form of communication in Spain that I don’t know about? At the same time, Barcelona could have had another penalty when Messi was taken down. I just found it odd that he called for some fouls and not for others. That is the absolute last thing I will say about the referee because I don’t want us to get too hung up on it.
Robin will not be able to appeal the red card he received in the game. Also, it seems that both Wenger and Nasri exchanged a few words with the referee in the tunnel after the match, to put it lightly. UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings against them both where they will face charges of improper conduct for using offensive language. It just keeps getting better. I’ll just clarify that I believe the referee must have put in his report the comments Wenger and Nasri made to him in the tunnel and that is what they are being charged for. It is not because of post match comments in the media. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure they would be throwing the book at van Persie.
In injury news, Szczesny, who went off early in the first half with a finger injury, looks to be in doubt for the rest of the season. Nothing has been confirmed by the club, but Wojo might have damaged a tendon in his finger. How serious it is and how much treatment it will need has yet to be determined. Martin and I will, of course, update you with any incoming injury news when we get it. In the meantime, we have a bit of a goalkeeping problem on our hands. Fabianski is out for the season with his shoulder injury. Almunia would be the one between the sticks if Szczesny really can’t play. Who is our backup keeper? Vito Mannone and James Shea are both carrying slight knocks. Mannone seems to be worse off, so I’m not sure that we’ll see him in action, but we could have Shea on the bench for us as his loan spell is almost up anyway.
With regards to Cesc and van Persie: I believe both are fit. Cesc seems to have a bit of an issue with his hamstring, but I haven’t heard that it is serious. What I do wonder is if either of them were more than 50% because it didn’t look like it yesterday. Both had very lacklustre performances and showed very little energy. It worries me if we are rushing them back because having them on the pitch when they are not fully fit just hurts us. We saw that earlier in the season when Cesc kept playing even though his pain and you could clearly see he was struggling. No matter what we think of Denilson, Diaby, or Rosicky, I’d rather have one of them on the pitch if they are fit rather than a frustrated and hobbling Cesc. As for van Persie, well, I was fine with having Bendtner play up top for us. He could have deputized just fine, and he doesn’t get riled up easily either. Ahem. Again, if there are any updates at all on their fitness, we’ll let you know as soon as we can.
Ok, so I’m going to have to swallow my bitter disappointment for a couple minutes to talk about the match. I’ll let Xavi kick off the discussion:
“This is a fair result,” Xavi told the Barcelona official website. “We were the superior team both in the away game and at home. There’s justice in football. They had clearly come here to defend. They didn’t even have one single shot on goal. I expected a lot more from them to be honest.
“[Javier] Mascherano and [Sergio] Busquets are simply amazing for the team, while Leo [Messi] once again stepped up to make the difference. The only thing that could have been better was our finishing. We should have scored more and we suffered too much. We could have killed the game a lot sooner.
“Arsenal really didn’t want to play football. All they cared about was defending. The red card did affect the game, but the decision was right in my opinion.”
I concede that Barcelona were and are the better team, but I’ll take slight issue with us not coming to play football. Barcelona fans, it is very difficult to get the ball of of you. It really is. It’s also hard to keep the ball when we get a sniff every 10 minutes. I do think that they pushed us back. We played a high line in the first half, but I think we began to sink deeper. Now, was it Wenger’s decision that we concentrate more on our defensive side of our game? I’m not sure. On the one hand, I thought our backline did pretty well, considering the opponent. Our problem was really in the midfield where we were just awful in transitioning. The few times we hoofed it were due to the ball being in a dangerous area or because we simply were being overwhelmed in the midfield and couldn’t string more than 2 passes together. Was it our plan to sit back and not attack? I don’t know, but I doubt it. When have we ever successfully pulled that off? We just aren’t set up that way. I will say that our “attempts” at attacking, particularly in the first half were completely feeble. I really don’t know what happened. It was an Arsenal we are not used to seeing. I don’t think we intended to play anti-football, but maybe they forced us into it. They were on their game and they could have had plenty more goals. We just couldn’t get it together. We didn’t play well, full stop.
At the end of the day, I think many of us were resigned to being knocked out even before the match. At least that was the general sense I was getting on twitter. Cesc tweeted after the game: “Great support from the arsenal fans. I take full blame for the result tonight. One of the worst moments of my life. I apologise.” We’re all feeling a bit low right now. We can be annoyed at the ref, but as Pep said, we were dominated for 90 minutes. That’s why I am hurting today. I just don’t feel much like talking about this game anymore because I tend to get like that after soul-crushing defeats. However, I am a fan. I’m allowed to be a depressed, miserable bastard. The real question is, how will the players respond to this? Will we bounce back to beat the Mancs on Saturday? That would be the most appropriate response. Go win a game. Don’t be the victim. Seize the moment and show them you are bigger than that, boys. There are still 2 trophies up for grabs. We have to look at ourselves and get our act together and go out there and start winning some football games. That’s it. The games we played against Barcelona were unlike any other we will play for the rest of the season. It was a two-legged tie against an incredibly strong team who could beat any one of the teams left in the competition. We tried to overcome them, but we could not. The challenges we face now are so much different and they can be won. Time to stop thinking that everything is going against us and time to just knuckle down and get the job done. We can if we want it enough. Ten league games and a quarterfinal on Saturday. It’s crunch time. Can we handle it?
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