With Arsenal’s exit from the knockout stages of the Champions League at the hands of the brilliant Barcelona still very fresh in the memory, manager Arsene Wenger must somehow attempt to rally his playing staff and focus them quickly on the competitions that they still hold weight in.
Wenger and some of his talented men have, unfortunately but understandably, looked to pass blame wherever possible. The supposed villain of Tuesday night’s piece, referee Massimo Busacca, has been lambasted for sending off striker Robin Van Persie after he shot at goal after the whistle had been blown for offside. It was without doubt a harsh decision, but the referee has followed the laws of the game to his interpretation and has acted correctly once he believed Van Persie has kicked the ball away. Van Persie may well have not heard the whistle, as he claimed after the game, but it conveniently seemed to be the only whistle any player didn’t hear during the whole match. A furious Wenger has since been charged by UEFA for improper conduct.
What is much more worrying for the Frenchman are the mistakes that are creeping into Arsenal’s usually fluid, lucid style. They are costly errors that threaten to curtail a season where at one stage even Wenger himself was contemplating a historic quadruple for the Gunners. Although being second best in the first half at the Nou Camp, Arsenal were minutes away from reaching half time at a craved stalemate. As the ball was cleared from another unsuccessful Barca attack, it fell to the feet of inspirational captain and leader, the mercurial Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard attempted a cute back heel on the edge of the box, which was seized by Andres Iniesta and fed to Lionel Messi, who took a couple of mesmerising touches before volleying into the net. Fabregas was obviously aggrieved, yet the immediate dangerous situation could still have been rescued. Gael Clichy tried and failed to position himself correctly after Fabregas had lost the ball, giving World Player of the Year Messi too much time to score the first of his two goals that evening.
Barcelona perceived to take control of the game despite Arsenal getting back on level terms through a Sergio Busquets own goal. Xavi scored, and Messi converted a penalty. Still, with minutes to go, the London club remained in the tie. In a rare chance, Jack Wilshere squared the ball for Nicklas Bendtner. Through on goal, his first touch was incredibly poor, and the possibility of going through into the quarter finals evaporated. It must have been exasperating on the touchline.
Wenger will only have to retrace his steps back less than two weeks to see that a calamitous error between Laurent Koscielny and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny possibly cost his team their first trophy for six years; Obafemi Martins took advantage, Birmingham the profiteers and Carling Cup winners. It is these split second lapses in concentration from great players that are holding Arsenal back, not referee’s whistles or linesman’s flags. Wenger has to work well, and quickly, to shackle the complacency and misjudgement within his own realm, as criticising powers beyond his control can and will lead to sanctions against him.
By no means does this suggest the end of the season for Arsenal. It is a big ask to go to Manchester United and win, but Arsenal are definitely a club who can emerge victorious when they take on their title rivals in the FA Cup quarter final at Old Trafford on Saturday evening. Failing that, a draw brings United back down to London, where Arsenal have usually been dominant. Add to that a game in hand on United in the title race and the exciting venture of Alex Ferguson’s side visiting the Emirates at the start of May, it is clear to see that Arsenal’s wait for silverware may not be much longer. For it to happen, though, there is now no room for error.
Can Arsenal still salvage something from this season? Please leave your comments below: