I suppose that the excuse of "we lacked focus" or "we were a little bit complacent at times" couldn't be trotted out by Wenger again after last night's debacle. Instead of that, we had the age-old "they didn't play football" and "the referee was awful" to contend with. Of course, it's difficult to argue with either of those comments from the Manager. However, it shouldn't have mattered how Braga played, or how bad the officiating was (and it was absolutely bloody scandalous, and ought to really be investigated by UEFA for its ineptitude) because the reason Arsenal lost is that they didn't put in the required effort. If the players were hurt after the weekend they didn't exactly show it. With the exception of Djourou and Gibbs (neither of whom played on Saturday) the performance of the players was as lacklustre as any we've seen against West Brom, Newcastle etc.
Nicklas Bendtner was back in the starting line-up last night. He's had far too much to say these past couple of weeks and I would have far rather seen Carlos Vela playing from the start as the Mexican has kept his head down and got on with things. So Bendtner had the chance to let his boots do the talking for a change, and he was awful. The Dane was constantly wandering out of the middle (as he always has done) so there was no target when the likes of Walcott and Gibbs got the ball in from wide. Bendtner needs to watch Marouane Chamakh and copy the way he plays - we looked so much better going forward when he came on.
I couldn't quite believe it when Theo Walcott was taken off, thus allowing Tomas Rosicky to get through the whole 90 minutes. Did Rosicky even touch the ball for most of the evening? Okay, Walcott was fairly quiet, but he was the only real threat we had against their defence. Denilson and Wilshere gave nothing going forward, and also failed to protect the back four at any time.
People will naturally criticise the decision to leave out Van Persie and Arshavin in the interests of resting the pair of them. Rightly so. However, they should have been in a position to be rested (along with the likes of Fabregas) without any question marks over our qualification - our problems do not stem from last night's defeat. The fact that Wenger left players out in Donetsk a few weeks ago, when a proper performance would have won us the group, is what caused the problems we now face. There is actually a very real prospect that we could go out of this competition. My brother pointed out this morning that, while you would never wish it, getting knocked out might just be a good thing as it would surely bring things to a head for Wenger - either to admit the squad is not up to it (unlikely considering his ridiculous boast on Friday that this is his finest squad ever), or to leave knowing he is now failing the Club.
It would be wrong to not mention the ridiculous decision to book Carlos Vela for diving. Vela was about to put the ball in the net when he was turned inside-out by the centre-back. The referee was no more than 15 yards away (and there was that other muppet behind the goal of course) and yet he can not see it was a stone-wall penalty. Wenger is right that it would have changed the game - of course it would - but that doesn't change the fact that Arsenal shouldn't have been in a position to be relying on the officials getting it right. Make no mistake Braga are rubbish. They do not belong on the same field as Arsenal. Unfortunately our players are simply not performing to the required standards and that is the fault of a Manager who seems unable to motivate them. It may be a consequence of the collective gloom of the last two games (we won the previous two remember) but I feel like I'm seeing the sort of lacklustre rubbish that became a hallmark of the death-throes of George Graham's time. I hope I'm wrong, but right now I feel Arsenal are nose-diving, and doing it quickly.
We lost Eboue and Fabregas to injury last night. I thought the foul on Eboue was awful and worthy of at least a yellow card - somehow we had more players carded than Braga did. The loss of Fabregas should be felt more keenly, you would think, than that of our reserve full-back. I actually think it might do the team some good. I have felt for a while that Fabregas is becoming a bit "Thierry Henry" in terms of his involvement on the field. You will remember how, in the last two seasons he spent at Arsenal Thierry insisted on every move going through him - so it is with Cesc right now. Henry also insisted on taking every free-kick around the penalty area etc. What I'm seeing with Fabregas feels like deja vu. His two free-kicks before half-time last night are put forward as "Exhibit A." The absence of Fabregas will hopefully see either Nasri or Wilshere move in to the role he vacates, thus spreading the play a bit more. This might just make us a little less predictable, while allowing one of those two to flourish in their natural position on the field.
It wasn't all bad news yesterday. Aaron Ramsey returned to action yesterday for the Reserves, along with Manuel Almunia. Both men played the first-half of a 2-1 win over Wolves - Roarie Deacon and Gilles Sunu the scorers. I wouldn't expect to be seeing Rambo in the first-team for quite a while yet - the FA Cup 3rd Round might be a realistic target for him, and patience will certainly be a virtue. He will need to buck the trend set by Diaby and Eduardo who were never the same after their horrific leg-breaks, and who still suffer the most annoying niggly injuries more often than is normal. Whatever the case, it's good to have him back on a football pitch and we can hope that he is the exception in terms of coming back to his best. I'm a little surprised to see Manuel back and playing, but I suppose he ought really to earn his wages if he's still at the Club. It will be very interesting to see if he works his way back to the first-team squad on a regular basis - I reckon he could be on the bench against Wigan next Tuesday.