Arsenal Take Their Chance To Make Excuses
It’s never nice losing, but in the end, it was the one type of defeat Arsene Wenger can stomach – one with plenty of convenient loopholes and excuses to ignore the real issues facing Arsenal. True, Robin Van Persie was hard done by in getting a second yellow card for ignoring a referee’s whistle he could conceivably not have heard, but he waived his right to margin for error with his petulance at the end of the first half. There was an uneasy feeling when Manuel Almunia came on for Szczesny, but having arguably his best game for the Gunners, the recent bench-warmer kept his team in the game with a string of top quality saves. He did such a good job that Nicklas Bendtner’s late chance actually mattered and wasn’t just an after-thought we can use to lampoon him for in future.
“It killed a promising, fantastic match. If it’s a bad tackle, OK, but frankly it is embarrassing,” said Wenger afterwards, as if the referee’s sole consideration in officiating should be entertainment value. The referee didn#t have a good game, but as ever, he was poor for both sides. The fact that Rio Ferdinand tweeted to declare Massimo Busacca was one of the ‘best’ around, pretty much says it all. In this case we can take it ‘best’ means ‘does whatever Alex Ferguson wants him to do’.
Criticising Busacca might make Arsene feel a little better in the short term, but the blame stops firmly at the Gunners’’own door. Zero shots on target and few forays into the Barcelona penalty area give a much better summary of where things went wrong for Arsenal than the volume of cards directed towards their players.
Going back a little further, had they avoided a couple of slip ups in the group stages, his team could have avoided Los Cules and landed one of the plum draws for the Last 16 – Copenhagen and Marseille being two not entirely random examples. His insistence on maintaining a tight grip on the purse strings is a laudable exception to the apparent rule of modern football, but in the interests of gathering silverware, he should feel free to have the occasional splurge. His squad lacks reliability in depth and last night he could only turn to players who can make a difference – if they’re in the mood. Assembling a quality squad is Wenger’s responsibility and for most of the last few years, when using his replacements, the well has run dry too quickly.
In the end, Arsenal were one goal away from knocking out one of the greatest teams of all time so they shouldn’t be too despondent. They can take solace from the fact that none of their Premier League rivals will be considered one of the greatest teams of all time and their first Premier League since 2004 is a distinct possibility. With Man Utd’s ‘just doing enough – that’s the stuff of champions’ lark no longer cutting the excuse mustard, the title race is well and truly on. Starting with the FA Cup tie against Man Utd, Arsenal now have the chance to prove that Tuesday’s result was a good team getting a raw deal, rather than an average team clutching at straws to explain their troubles.