The stage was set. The atmosphere was cooking. Everyone seemed up for it and we started with some real verve considering the opposition. It was a shame then that the team who complains about being kicked as a strategy, were able to get away with some quite repetitive and purposely orchestrated foul play. It set the tone for the whole game whereby Monreal being booked, and rightly so, was followed by at least ¾ similar fouls from the Catalans which went unpunished. It was a pattern that continued throughout the game and only when Barcelona were 2-0 up and cruising did the referee begin to actually blow his whistle for shithousery against us. But of course the game was won by then and the consequences were minimal. I’ve always rebuffed the fact that UEFA have a bias against English clubs as surely it’s too difficult for it to go unnoticed as well as the fact that there are far too many people with integrity to allow it to go ahead. But being there first hand and experiencing such an awful refereeing performance made me think a little. It does feel like: UEFA + English clubs = horror show. It’s happened so many times to various English clubs over the past decade or so that it seems too regular to be a coincidence. The corruption continued when Alba dived to the floor clutching his face when his arm was brushed, followed by putting his head firmly into Giroud’s. If the roles were reversed I have no doubts that we would have seen a red brandished to Giroud. But as it’s against English opposition the referee looked the other way. What a tosser of a man. What a bastard. The injustice was infuriating. That’s not the main reason why we lost the game by any stretch but the referee had absolutely no control – Barcelona are the best team in the world and do not need the referees help to win a game of football. They have 3 of the worlds finest to see to that.
Our performance itself was brilliant for 70 minutes. Brilliant. We kept them at bay and gave as good as we got, if not more. Petr Cech had one big save from Neymar to make in the time that Stegen had 2 from The Ox and Giroud. But lo and behold, just when it began to swing out way we were suckered into a false sense of security and Barcelona scored a very un-Barcelona goal. It was a beautiful goal don’t get me wrong, but it’s the type of goal we are so used to conceding on the break, which is what brings frustration. Counter attacking goals against us are one of our bigger weaknesses and considering that we were actually creating some chances I thought to myself, why are we over pressing and pushing too much? A 0-0 wouldn’t have been the end of the world (*Cough Milan Cough*). But our naivety shone through once again and that’s the difference. We knew they were a far better footballing side and they proved that with some of their play on the night but we played into their hands rather than them actually having to be over and above their usual level to score against us. That’s both a positive and a negative. Positive in the sense that they weren’t able to break us down playing ‘the Barca way’ but negative in the sense that we contributed heavily towards our downfall. And that’s something that hasn’t changed in Europe for the last 3 years. In Wengers post match conference he seemed for the the first time in years to have lost his patience with the current crop – as we’ve been misfiring for a few weeks now. Lord knows whether that was just an emotional response straight after the game or whether it’s indicative of us requiring some changes in the summer. One to park for another day but still food for thought.
On another day we may have taken a chance, maybe two but it wasn’t to be. The most worrying aspect for us is that we panicked at 0-0 vs the best team in the world. We panicked in the same way we panicked vs Monaco. We panicked in the same way we have done in so many games not quite going our way. It’s happened against the likes of Hull and Swansea as well so it’s nothing new, but deeply worrying. There’s a picture depicting the emptying of our own half for their first goal that mirrors the Monaco game from last year all too accurately. Lessons aren’t being learnt and we’re being suckered into turnovers and counter attacking football with consummate ease. For all that naivety we truly had the chances at 0-0 to be ahead. Possibly by 2 goals – IF our chances were taken. And that’s a point that has been raised far too often in big games for us this year. We’re a good side, great even, but there are a group of teams above us that have a killer instinct within them that we fall short of. It comes back to not quite having that world class forward or quite the right backup DM. That we didn’t take our chances and that Flamini’s first touch was to give away a penalty is indicative of those shortcomings. I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll address this all come the end of the season but it’s so obvious that it would be gross negligence on the management within the club to allow the current crop to continue without significant investment.
That brings me to my next point, which is the base of our midfield. In the first half we performed admirably with Ramsey & Coq keeping the Barca midfield triumvirate fairly quiet. One Suarez header aside in first half stoppage time we policed the Barca attacking threat really well. Not only that but we were able to create a fair few chances, it felt more promising and less impossible than vs Bayern but the little things didn’t quite go for us this time around. In the second half the out-ball from our centre backs disappeared in the midfield area leaving us searching for more Hollywood passes and in turn we ceded possession far too often as a result. The pressure built as we stepped up higher and higher to win the ball back, out of sheer naivety, which ultimately led to our downfall. The annoyance once again is that it doesn’t feel like we did this because it was Barcelona, rather we did this because it is so our style. As the game wore on we began to become a little too comfortable, almost forgetting that we were up against one of the best teams in the world spearheaded by the best front three in football today. Talking of that front three, watching the way they move the ball up close is a wonder to behold. It’s sickening when it’s against your team however you can’t help but applaud them (inside of course) for their ability. It’s their movement off the ball that is genuinely terrifying to behold. The minute that Messi or Neymar in particular release the ball they are moving at the speed of light into the pockets of space available for the return pass. So quick. So skilful. So painful. I think that Suarez is a brilliant footballer but Messi and Neymar are the really intelligent ones going forward. They cause chaos with their movement. In Alexis & Ozil we have our very own stars but I’m not sure they lived up to their expectations. Our inability to score caused us to gamble (wrongly) but it’s the inability to score that will be the focus for Wenger. We all know that we’ve been defensively shaky as all attacking teams are but when the attacking isn’t going your way for s prolonged period of time it’s a worry. Alexis was trying a little too hard coupled with the fact that Alves had him in his pocket pretty much throughout the game. It was the moments that he did break free that were disappointing in that he looked exasperated at the lack of support around him. With regards to Ozil, he has some nice touches and was involved as much as he could have been but wasn’t at all helped by the lack of movement when he had the ball. Even still he has a number of good set piece deliveries to which knock downs were never gambled on and in the end cost us the game.
I was a little surprised at Ox being in the starting XI, but I have a feeling that a fully fit Danny Welbeck would have been ideal for this game. He works harder than The Ox and would have been an additional aerial threat, which was one of Barcelona’s weaknesses. I know that he is still young but it does feel a little like his time is running out of he is to make a main stay in our first team squad. The same can be said of Theo Walcott. He is one of the most ineffective footballers we have. A non entity in the second half and a continued foray of runs where he can easily hide from the play making it impossible for us to break them down. When he plays it’s almost like playing with 10 as he only comes alive into games in really short bursts. The summer is going to be interesting as the Euros may be the shop window for players such as the above. I say this purely because I’ve never seen Wenger so damning of his players post game.
Our next month looks daunting to say the least and that’s nothing to do with the result vs Barcelona. It’s more to do with the replay vs Hull. We now play United away, Swansea at home, Sp*rs away, Hull away (2 days later I’m told!) and then West Brom at home followed by the return leg to Barcelona. We need to go and pick up 3 points this weekend without question as anything less than a win could see the wheels come off. We are vulnerable at the moment but hopefully a United team maligned by injuries and their own confidence problems isn’t something that we can’t deal with. A big performance to show the league is still in our sights is needed. I think this will be a game where we will see Danny Welbeck start as he’s done enough in the last few games to warrant a start. A massive few weeks lay in wait – time to refocus and reaffirm our belief that the league is there for the taking and that’s it’s something we want more than our mothers home cooking.
Have a great week people.
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