On Tuesday, Arsenal was knocked out of the UEFA Champions League after losing to Barcelona 3-1 at Camp Nou. After two legs, Barcelona has won the tie 4-3 on aggregate. There is nothing surprising in Arsenal losing to Barcelona, but those who watched the match on Tuesday would have surely experienced the other side of Arsenal- a rock solid defense.
Arsenal is known for their attacking style of football based on slick passing and pace. But, interestingly Arsenal showed some superb defensive performance against an under-pressure Barcelona who went into the game knowing that they have to score to overturn the 2-1 deficit.
It is not that Arsenal did not make any mistake in the back. Yes, they did, but the way Arsenal defense stood in against the overflowing attacks from the Catalan side masterminded by the likes of Xavi and Messi showed that Gunners backline started to come of age finally. It is said that no team can achieve greatness unless it has a very good defense. If that is true, then I must say, Wenger has a great team that is just in the last phase of the production chain.
The next thing I want to say is that Arsenal would not win a title until they come out of two problems (or bad luck, you can say): one is injury and the other is bad referring. The way Arsenal started the second half, I would not have surprised if they ended up even winning the match, had Robin van Persie not been just the latest Arsenal casualty of bad referring. It is true that referees are not at a very easy task, but then I cannot imagine how the Swiss referee brought out the second yellow for the Dutch forward for such a silly matter, even when it was understandable that it was very tough for an on-rushing player to hear referee’s whistle for offside at a full-packed stadium like Nou Camp and in a match of this magnitude where crowds were all screaming around the ground. The most important thing is that he cautioned Van Persie for a small matter in the first half, so he should have thought twice before showing the Dutch marching orders.
There is no doubt, Barcelona played some flowing football in the first half, and Arsenal also put up a brave face, even though they conceded a late goal before the break. However, at the beginning of the second half, it was clear that Arsenal was just gradually tightening their grip on the match against an exhausted Barcelona side. They even secured the equalizing goal too, but then came that big decision: Robin van Persie was sent off. Within few minutes, Barcelona scored twice and you know the rest.
What is now important is that Wenger boys must not give up. It is true they have suffered two heart-aches in the space of 10 days with the first coming at Carling Cup final, but Fabregas and his teammates should know that they can get a lot of positives out of the recent games. They missed Fabregas, Walcott in the Carling Cup final, then Walcott, Song and Fabregas missed the Sunderland game where Arsenal was denied a penalty and a goal by the referee, and now on Tuesday, the Gunners missed the electrifying pace of Walcott and the vibrant presence of Song. More importantly, whatever the Gunners achieved this season, they had to do it without their most reliable center defender Thomas Vermaelen.
When you cannot win the trophy after going so close and putting so much effort, it is definitely frustrating. But then, Arsenal’s overall performance so far this season has been very much satisfactory. First, they reached the Carling Cup final, and then defeated mighty Barcelona at home. Now, they are still very much in the title race of Premier League and active in the FA Cup. They can still win two titles to end up the season on high note.
For that, Arsenal must avoid any further injury problem and needs some fair decisions from the referees. More than that, Arsenal players must have a high confidence level, knowing that they have everything what it takes to win any title in Europe. After getting out of the Champions League, Arsenal would now have less hectic schedule comprising of just FA Cup and Premier League matches. So, it would help Wenger boys to stay away from injury in this busy phase of the season.