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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

11 v 11 means a different second-half

Maybe next year

In any game of football, no matter who is playing, no matter the score, you will always get one chance to score a goal. In the final minutes Arsenal had their chance at the Nou Camp when Wilshere put Nicklas Bendtner through on goal. This was Bendtner's opportunity to finally put his money where his mouth is and prove that he is not all talk. Unfortunately his all too familiar poor first touch let him down and Arsenal's final hope was gone for good. If Robin Van Persie had been the man played through you have to think the outcome would have been somewhat different. That in itself tells you what a difference an eleven aside game could have made last night.
In the second-half Barcelona destroyed Arsenal. But Arsenal spent most of the second-half with one man missing (or four men if you count Fabregas, Rosicky and Diaby).
In the first forty-five minutes our opponents dominated possession, but they didn't create very much at all. I can only remember one chance before the opening goal. The goal itself was all down to Arsenal's Captain. Fabregas was palpably not fit enough last night, but I am not having any excuses made for him. His back-heel was a dereliction of duty and any apology on Twitter is just not going to cut it I'm afraid. His behaviour in the tunnel pre-match, with the hugging and hand-shaking of the Barca players was not becoming of a leader of The Arsenal. Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Frank McLintock would never have considered such friendliness before the battle. When the game began Fabregas consistently failed to find a yellow shirt. When the Barcelona players decided to mix it with Robin Van Persie he basically sided with them and ushered RVP away - as the Captain he should have been leading the charge and dragging all of Arsenal's players in with him to back up our Dutch centre-forward. I'm sure I will get slated by some readers for daring to slag off Fabregas but the fact is that had Denilson performed like that last night he would be getting slaughtered for it by every Arsenal fan. There is no reason why Fabregas should get away without a shellacking simply because he is normally so much better. Fit or unfit, he failed to rise to the big occasion - and not for the first time.
Early in the second-half we got our goal, albeit fortuitously. It came after brilliant work from a Trojan-like Samir Nasri, who put in a superb effort last night, down the left and then a fine delivery from the corner. At 1-1, and knowing how Barcelona have faded late on against us in the past, it really was all to play for. The defence was performing manfully, and Jack Wilshere was doing the work of three men in the centre of midfield. Then came the turning point. The referee had already given Arsenal very little, and booked four of our players in the first-half. I thought Van Persie's first yellow card was simply a reaction from the referee to the incident shortly before when Van Persie was attacked by Abidal. Quite frankly he should have made sure he really tagged the odious Dani Alves - after all, if you're going to get booked at least make it worthwhile. The second yellow card was, as Arsene Wenger said afterwards, an embarrassment for football (it comes as no surprise to me that UEFA have charged Wenger and Nasri over comments made to the referee, rather than coming out and castigating the referee for costing the World the opportunity to see a great game of football). What promised to become another modern classic instead became a procession. Manuel Almunia showed just how good he really can be at times with a quite stunning performance. I've read today about the lovely finish by Xavi for their second goal, but a brief glance at it shows it was only a deflection off Sagna that took it past Almunia. Some of Barcelona's football was incredible and, with ten men, simply unstoppable. Give us eleven men and it is a different game. The introduction of Arshavin came about seventy minutes too late - can someone please tell me why Rosicky played ahead of the little Russian? Had Arshavin been coming on, with Van Persie still up top, I really believe Arsenal could have got through last night. As it was we were only one goal away from winning the tie.
I listened to Graeme Souness after the game raving about Barcelona and how well they played in the second-half. However, his assertion that Arsenal having only ten men made no difference at all was complete nonsense (I actually found myself agreeing with Jamie Redknapp for the first time ever). So, too, is the opinion of most of the experts that this team can't be beaten in the European Cup this season. Arsenal came within one goal of knocking them out. I know Real Madrid got destroyed by them before Christmas, but Mourinho won't let that happen again. Similarly Manchester United and Chelsea will not have a midfield that stands off Barca in the way that Arsenal did. Barcelona are magnificent, probably the best football team ever. But Inter Milan showed last season what a bit of physicality and tactical awareness can do. Arsenal have shown twice how a bit of pace and accurate passing (another thing missing from last night) can damage their brittle defence. What you do need is a referee who is willing to show some balls in the heat generated by 95,000 screaming fans.

I noticed that Fabio Capello has today described Gareth Bale as the best player in the World. If that doesn't convince the FA that Capello is not up to the job of England Manager then nothing will. Has he not seen Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (to name but two of the many players in a different league to Bale)? Capello also compared Bale to Roberto Carlos. I would like to know when Bale last played at left-back - quite some time I would imagine. The praise of Bale seems to be all part of the media campaign to award him Footballer of the Year. The muppets involved would do well to remember that he would have been at Nottingham Forest by now had Spurs not suffered an injury crisis on 31st January last year. Harry is some judge of a player.

More tomorrow when the dust will hopefully have settled on another European campaign coming to an end. If any Spurs fans try to give it large because they beat AC Milan then just let them have their moment, and hope that they draw Barca in the quarter-final. Remember, we will always be better than they are because WE ARE THE ARSENAL.

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