Arsenal Fans Should Blame Arsene Wenger, Not The Players, For Their Inevitable Loss To Barcelona


Time was running out at the Emirates when a small pocket of Arsenal fans ironically cheered a misplaced Barcelona pass that went out for a throw-in. By then this much-hyped game, and in all likelihood the tie, had been lost. Arsenal couldn't stop Barca, but thankfully this time they'd stopped themselves.

What will really hurt the long-suffering Gooner nation this morning is the fact Arsenal could have beaten this revered Barcelona team. You might even argue they should have beaten them. Arsenal didn't even play that well, and they are obviously inferior to Barcelona (the gulf in class is clear), but they had two glorious first-half chances and both of Lionel Messi's goals were down to lapses in concentration.

Football is a game of eternal ifs and ands, but what a fillip for Arsenal had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lifted his finish over Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, instead of presenting him kindly with the match ball. What emotion would have flowed around the Emirates had Olivier Giroud found the meat of his head and the corner of the goal.

The clinical edge that's essential to beating a world-class team was not forthcoming. Chances were spurned, passes misplaced and with every minute the inevitability of Barcelona demonstrating how to get it done in the final third loomed large. Suarez, Messi and Neymar is just too much football noise to keep muffled these days.

And then Suarez found Neymar, who found Messi, who scored. Obviously. Arsenal's padlock was unpicked in a matter of seconds and they had only themselves to blame for leaving out the key.

The goal was a pure MSN production of delicious execution, but Arsenal's woeful shape invited them in. One lapse in focus and they were cut to shreds - assists to their own demise.

Worse was to follow when Mathieu Flamini gave away that rare thing in the modern meaningful match - an indisputable penalty. Fresh off the bench Flamini swung a leg at the ball like a relaxed dad at the beach. Only Messi doesn't run on sand. Penalty given; penalty dispatched.

It finished 2-0 to Barca and most would agree it's a smarter bet they win the second leg 6-0 than Arsenal somehow turn this around.

Arsene Wenger called his team "naive" afterwards, and said they were "technically average". This is the fifth season in a row Arsenal have lost a first leg game in the last 16. What is it about this stage of the competition that exposes their flaws so brutally? Is the quality of the opposition the only answer we need? Or is something more telling at play?

Could it be that Arsenal just don't have the mental staying power - be it over a season or the duration a match?

It's hard to imagine a more Arsenal-esque night than the one that unfolded. It felt like the entire 90 minutes was a metaphor for a team that consistently promises the world, only to forget its wallet when the bill comes and then walk into the door on the way out of the restaurant.

For 70 minutes Arsenal put all the functional parts together will utmost care and focus. They pressed when they needed to and sat back when the time was right. Messi, Suarez and Neymar were left to work in small vacuums and their threat was diluted.

Like all teams do against Barca, Arsenal conceded the majority of possession, but it didn't matter. Barca's key protagonists were being starved of attacking oxygen and there was no way through. Meanwhile Arsenal players were charging forward when they had the chance and looking to get on the front foot.

They enjoyed some good territory and had some fine chances, but Arsenal simply couldn't make it count. Nobody in a red and white shirt seemed to grasp the night as their own and Mesut Ozil was unable to influence things as we know he's capable.

In the end it came down to four moments where Arsenal revealed their fallibility at both ends of the pitch. A four-goal swing that could have been reversed with more polished finishing and more focused defending.

Wenger blamed his players, but is it really too much to ask that their manager might have improved his team in those areas by now himself?