LONDON. — Arsene Wenger was measured, but incredibly angry in his post match assessment of Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday night. Wenger called his players “naive” and accused them of being “technically average.” If you put those two factors together and you have the reasons why Arsenal lost the game.
They didn’t take their chances when they came. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud both had good sights of goal when it was still goalless.
Then the whole team rushed forward and Barcelona’s searing counter attack left them horribly exposed before Lionel Messi then rounded off the move with a clinical finish. That was effectively game over after 71 minutes but they also scored a penalty just to be sure.
Where the frustration lies for Wenger is in that first goal. It’s all so familiar and smacks of last season when they were beaten in the last 16 by Monaco, a very beatable team at Champions League level.
It comes down to a lack of discipline. Francis Coquelin, so well drilled up until that point, had abandoned his post. Per Mertesacker, a vastly experienced World Cup winner, had stormed forward and was also horribly caught out.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez stood and shouted in frustration at Coquelin. They had a proper go at their team mate.
Coquelin is still incredibly inexperienced on the European stage (that’s why Arsenal needed a midfielder last summer) but you might have thought Ozil and Sanchez, two world class players, might have turned up themselves.
Ozil was disappointing, didn’t influence the game and Sanchez was too wound up, too fired up to be effective against his former club and is also still looking for his best form since returning from injury.
Arsenal gave everything for 70 minutes, executed their game plan and if they’d done that for another 20 minutes then they’d have got a goalless draw, maybe had a late chance and yet their lack of discipline cost dear.
It now leaves Arsenal with an impossible job. Barcelona regard it as game over, to such an extent that Gerard Pique deliberately got himself booked late on so he would miss the return leg and it would wipe out a previous yellow card. Cynical but smart.
That’s how Barcelona were all night. They are brilliant and yet very street wise. Wenger complained that Barcelona always complained to the referee.
Wenger said: “They are tricky. When they go down, they shout. They don’t go down silently. It influences the referee every time.
“It’s like they provoke a reflex from the referee. But we didn’t lose because of the referee. We have to look at ourselves.”
At least there is honesty from Wenger and a realisation of the painful truth. Barcelona are the best team in Europe, Arsenal contained them for 70 minutes (no-one did that better than Nacho Monreal who kept Messi quiet) and Wenger’s men are also-rans in this competition.
From once being beaten finalists in 2006 and genuine contenders in the shake-up, they are now like the giant killers, the no-hopers who have to pull off a big upset (as they did against Bayern Munich in the Group stage) and they can’t win it anymore. — The Mirror.