A right-winger, DM cover and CF short of Victory: Arsenal v Barcelona Afterthoughts

The morning after the night before, and I cannot help but feel a bit melancholy. The head says the boys gave their all and we were beaten by a stronger team, but the Gooner heart is bleeding nevertheless. For seventy minutes we played well, as in we were disciplined and stuck to the un-Arsenal-like game plan. And then we became ourselves again, wanting to play the sort of football that our opponents do and which is so ingrained in our on-field philosophy. Self-denial can only last so long.

I cannot really blame the crowd and the players to forget themselves – or should that be ‘become themselves again’? – after seventy minutes of holding back our instincts, only then to get cruelly punished for it by the three-headed strikers’ dragon (at a vulgar street value of say £250m!).


We all knew that Barcelona getting the vital ‘away goal’ – an archaic rule that should be scrapped immediately – was a hammer blow we were unlikely to recover from. To get caught on the break like that, after seventy minutes of disciplined defending and careful attacking, is just nasty. It is easy to blame somebody for it, but it looked like the whole defence and midfield cocked up badly. I wish Koz had taken one for the team when he was dealing with Suarez early on of that counter-attack, but it is easy to say this in hindsight. Not long after that, Flamini, not even on the pitch for a minute, conceded a penalty after being short-changed by the until then immaculate, omni-present in the box, BFG, which Messi did not mess with.

0-2 with only little time to get back into the game, and, in fact, it could have got worse for us as our opponents were pushing hard for a third goal. A harsh and hard reality check for the Gunners and Gooners, but, on the plus side, we got a good demonstration of what we are still missing to make it to the very, very top of world football – and with us the other 99.9% of football teams in the world.

It could all have been different if we had taken our big chance when the ball fell to the Ox just three yards from the goal line and enough time to take a touch and focus on a clinical finish. Unfortunately, he did not make a good contact and played the ball meekly into Verstegen’s grateful arms. It seems typical of games like these that the best chances fall to the least strong attackers – remember Flamini’s recent chances against the Chavs?

It should have gone in but it did not, and when we play opponents like last night’s it always feels like a double miss when this happens – remember Ozil’s missed penalty against Bayern at home? I don’t want to blame the Ox too much for this as he is still at an age when these sort of opportunities often get wasted. I don’t think Wenger should have combined Ox and Bellerin, two promising youngsters, on the right wing, though. Against this sort of opponent experience and confidence is key, and one youngster on that wing was risky enough; two was asking for trouble imho.

That right mid-wing position is clearly still an issue at Arsenal. If Wenger feels that neither Campbell, Theo or Danny should start ahead of the Ox in a game like this one, we have some shopping to do in the summer.

On the left wing, we had Nacho and Alexis and I expected more from this duo. Nacho did very well defensively and tried to help out Alexis whenever he could. The Chilean firecracker really struggled to get a grip on this game and produce the sort of magic we know he is capable of (but we have seldom seen in 2016). That was one of the biggest disappointments of the night for me.

I thought Giroud did okay and worked hard to make things happen for the team, but it is fair to say that he also did not excel on the night. In our system, Giroud is not meant to be the lethal CF but a good CF and an excellent link-up attacker, who creates and scores in equal measure. In last night’s game we needed something special from our strike-force, and Alexis, Giroud, The Ox and Theo (who replaced the Ox early on in the second half) all played below par to make that happen.

There were plenty of positives though. Rambo played phenomenally well, showing us all what a great b2b he is and what an engine he possesses. The combo of Coq and Rambo were very disciplined and really were effective in stopping Barca play for 70 minutes or so; and how many teams can do that? Ozil was lively and always looking for attacking opportunities but was let down by the ball control and (lack of effective) off the ball running of many of his fellow attackers. Belerin had a fabulous game and so did Cech and Monreal. The BFG-Koz CB combo held out well for a long period of the game but suffered badly once the team discipline went out of the window – for which they are to blame as well.

In summary, we are still a little short of the very, very top level of football. There should be no shame in this: we are building a top, top team and this needs to take time, and our opponent are on a crest of long-term success, doped by continuous quality purchases that we cannot afford and/or attract as much as they do. In order to reach the European/World top level, we need to build further on the good basis of this team and we can do that by spending our money carefully in the summer. First we need to win the league and then establish a platform of squad quality and depth, confidence/belief and experience to beat the likes of Bayernlona, Barca or Madrid.

I don’t think it will be easy to achieve this but it is not impossible either – and we should not underestimate how much the German and Spanish Giants are ahead of the rest of Europe right now. We are lucky that we have the football ground – how fantastic were those aerial helicopter shots of THOF last night? – the financial structure and income, and a very decent, relatively young and still developing squad to make the leap forward.

But it also requires vision, guts and investment by the BOD, and, if last night’s game made anything clear, then it is where Wenger needs to strengthen the squad in the summer: a right winger/midwinger of Alexis’ caliber, possibly another CF (depending on the system Wenger wants to play), better DM cover/challenge for Le Coq and a quality CB to gradually take over from the BFG. On top of that, we need more leadership so we can last ninety rather than seventy minutes. Some will come from within and some will have to be bought.

But we don’t have to play one of the European super top-three teams every day and against Manure I expect us to bounce back to do the shirt proud. 🙂

“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure” W. Churchill.

Bring on the Mancs!

By TotalArsenal.



34 thoughts on “A right-winger, DM cover and CF short of Victory: Arsenal v Barcelona Afterthoughts

  • Great review TA. The Ox is usually good at finishing, it’s just as a team the finishing by us is still a problem following the game against Hull. On top of the better players particularly in attack, Barcelona have another level of confidence which comes from being champions across competitions and on top of that doing it repeatedly. They also have a training and coaching system from youth upwards on another level to many. They have better players, confidence and coaching.

    The confidence and mettle is gradually building in our team and we can take it higher by winning the league. Whether we win it or not we should buy one or two world class players in the summer but no more. With this we can be more dominant in the league (we may have to with Pep surely making Man City better, Chelski being better next season etc) and compete a bit better in the champions league. It is a gradual process that requires long term investment of money and quality coaching.

    We could have got further than this round had we not faced Barcelona but the mentality that saw us make errors against Monaco ensured we play a more difficult opponent and we got Barcelona where we eventually proceeded to repeat those errors again. This team has not yet matured and some players might never do.

    Beyond buying players, confidence and mentality the other vital thing to focus on is training the players at all levels, particularly in the Barca off the ball pressing and movement that Alexis knows how to do. We need to build a level of fitness among the players that can help us do that as a team. Why not work on this while we gradually build towards their level through league title wins and careful upgrades in certain positions.

  • Thanks FMJ and all agreed, except that the Ox is normally a good finisher. He has to technique to be one but for somebody with well over a 100 senior Arsenal games, he just does not score enough in the positions he is played in. And that was a bad miss yesterday.

    Agreed re mentality and I wonder whether we need a better on field leader to ensure continuous focus throughout the game.

  • I am not sure if I watched the same game. Merstesecker was guilty for the 2 goals firstly missing his slide near the halfway line allowing barca the space to break. then the cushioning of the pass to flamini in our own box to get them the penalty. Giroud was poor with his distribution the few breaks we had on he lost the ball either over playing the pass ,or kicking out (remember that pass to theo in the box). He also does not have the brain or vision to pick up his head and switch play. Sanchez was furious being free so many times on the left. Ozil and Sanchez looked deserted a lot of the time because Giroud cannot make through runs. Welbeck showed what we needed peeling of defenders and showing intent. We don’t want to praise our striker for tracking back when he has not scored in 8 games. Ox apart from the missed chance had a good game , tracked back and also looked comfortable going forward. Walcott just camped on the touchline whole second half. Ramsey lost cheap possession too often , he needs some time on the bench when Wiltshire returns. And finally Wenger , lets hope this is his last season>>>

  • Hi TA, yep Ox hasn’t scored enough and the stats back that up. Apologies for the confusion when I talk about Ox’s good finishing I mean what I feel he is capable of. He can become a midfielder that scores goals fairly often, he finished very well against Bournemouth and he has that ability in him. Then again I don’t know which way it will go with him right now it is touch and go – he is one I would question about whether he can mature sufficiently to compete regularly let alone against the likes of Barca. But I retain the faith a little longer.

  • We did well for 70 mins and Ox was a part of that team effort. He played ok, and did track back well with Bellerin and quite a bit better than how Alexis faired with a similar task on the opposite side of the pitch.

  • Per played well also but the teams eagerness to score left his weaknesses exposed again a faster player may have caught up with Barca and made it more difficult for them. I think it effected his concentration when clearing straight to Messi also.. He can be a real asset to the team but I get the feeling he just about achieves that whereas we need a defender that is commanding and able to play a high or low line with ease..

  • Cheers Lance, we all saw the same game but with different eyes! 😉

    I thought the BFG’s positioning and interceptions were fantastic yesterday. As long as we played compact he was an absolute rock. Yes he had some blame in both goals… it was a tough game for all of the defenders.

    Giroud had to act quickly as he was under a lot of pressure, and, as I said in the post, it was not his best game.

    Re Rambo you are totally wrong, and the same goes for the Ox. The way the latter got himself injured tells us all you need to know: the top game is too fast for him.

  • FMJ, we certainly can improve on the BFG, but it will not be easy to find somebody with the experience and all the skills that Per possesses as well as a faster pair of legs…

  • Another thing perhaps not raised is that Elneny was not even on the bench! He was eligible to play and some of us wanted him in the starting line up prior to the game..

  • When blaming Ox for the miss, don’t forget Neymar Jr. and Suarez had each two clear chances to score. Each had a header, then Suarez hit the post and Neymar shot straight at. . The problem is Barca didn’t need to win 6-0 because they new there is a return game. If you saw Alves and Alba, they where more defending than they normally play. This tie is done and dusted.

  • That is a fair point, Bona. The only difference is that they score almost constantly for their team whereas the Ox doesn’t. It just was one of those chances that had to go in.. it was a 24 karate golden one..

  • I don’t think we should be too hard on our boys. There is no doubt that Barca are a better team than us. So we had two choices try to outplay them? Which would have been akin to suicide or to sit back and let them have the ball. This worked pretty well but keeping it up for 90 minutes was always going to be difficult. Whilst the Ox should have scored I thought he had a decent game and provided a good outlet when we attacked. Ian Wright summed his chance up very well at half time. “. Oh my god I am going to score against Barcelona” panic

  • Cheers Retsub,

    The question to ask is then, why do we have a player on the pitch who thinks what Ian W described? Theo or Rambo on the right would have been an option but Wenger went for the Ox…

  • T A only two people know the answer to that monsieures Wenger and 17 HT. I do believe the Ox is improving, but we don’t have room for passengers at the moment

  • TA, good report under fairly dispiriting conditions… Overall, I’m with retsub in that I don’t think we should be too tough on our guys…

    The Ox is a true conundrum. The talent is obvious but the mental part of the game consistently lets him down. You’ve got the sitter and then the heavy touch and the injury and then soldiering on when he was either hurt or not hurt. Decision making just seems consistently wrong. It reminds me of this one:

    By the way, I only put the Ox in the first 11 because it seemed clear that’s where AW was heading with the guys he used vs Hull. I don’t think we sacrifice anything in terms of defending with him in there (Theo and Campbell don’t really seem any better in that regard, but that’s just my opinion…). Overall, however, I’m with TA in that this position is the most obvious hole in the squad where buying seems the answer.

    Ramsey over there worked well and I’m a bit surprised AW hasn’t tried it since the Santi injury. Elneny in the middle (as per TA’s pre-match post) would have to go but Wenger seems to prefer Flamini. That one’s a mystery to me… Plenty of experience, but if the body won’t execute, all the proper thoughts in the world matter not a whit…

    On the other side, I thought Alexis gave a good effort but seem befuddled by the ref. His new, more English style of playing through the fouls, just didn’t jibe with the Turkish fellow calling every little touch. I thought not just Alexis but the whole team failed to adjust to that reality. We needed to slow the match down and try to use the FKs to our advantage without, of course, committing too many resources forward, same as not falling victim to the all-too-human urge to get forward and push for the lead…

    One bright spot, I thought, was that Welbeck keeps looking like he might be ready to move up a level. That cushioned header down to Ramsey was excellent and, like Ox’s 1st half chance, I thought it should have been scored. Nobody else seems to be mentioning it, but it looked a very good chance to me. Ramsey is a very, very good player, but I’m still convinced that if he would cut down his stride (instead of always reaching out for longer ones) he could move up to an even higher level.

    Anyhow, we can go on and on (and on) with quibbles here and there and both long and short term ideas about the team. In the here and now, however, the boys need to take the positives, redouble their commitment and be ruthless up at Old Trafford, back home vs Swansea and up the Seven Sisters at WHL. As big as this one was, the week ahead is probably even bigger…

  • Cheers 17HT

    All good points, especially re Welbeck’s role and impact. From what I saw Rambo stretched his whole leg to get to the ball but it was too far away to make impact, so that was not a missed chance.

  • Hi TA, HT and other BKers. I haven’t seen the game yet sadly. I was out at work in the evening, so had to follow by text update, and am only just home again now. From reading the reports, I don’t feel too much gloom I confess. We played with discipline for most of the game by all accounts, and it could have all been so different if a couple of the key breaks had gone another way. What are we missing then?

    When I reflected on this last summer, there was not a lot I could argue that we were short of. Real SQ would benefit in pretty much any position – arguably we have it in Cech, Sanchez and Ozil, plus a couple with the potential – Bellerin and Ramsey. Our second string of dependable quality is also excellent – in this camp I would have Santi, Coq and Nacho. Jack could be in either camp if he were ever fit enough. That adds up to 8 or 9 in our preferred first team.

    We have addressed the DM cover with Elneny’s purchase – though his value has yet to be judged properly, and will probably need another 18 months to tell. A season on we also have players like Bielik nearing 1st team status; and will Hayden yet come back a la Coq? We have a lot of options in our midfield and wide positions – no one really argued that we should have sold Theo. But could we improve on him; yes probably? But not easily I suspect.

    And I’m squarely in the camp that views Giroud as much for his value in bringing other players into play as for his direct goal scoring. We could get a more proficient goal scorer for sure, but whether this would really help the team is something I’m less convinced on. And I do believe we have more to see from Danny – Manure friends of mine are still pissed that they sold him to us. As HT says, the early signs from his return are at least amongst the positives.

    That leaves me looking at the CBs. And here I do believe we should look to buy, and buy big. I don’t have anything poor to say about either of our first choice CBs, and when they are both fit, they must be one of the best combinations currently in the PL. But I think we could still improve in this area. More than that, given the preference for attacking potency in the top German and Spanish sides, we going to need to have a real bedrock at the back, as we are unlikely to be able to compete up front. When I look at Gabby and Chambers, I don’t see a future combination to fear into other sides – though to be fair, a few years ago I would have said much the same of Kos. But if we were to buy one player in the summer, a truly commanding CB, with real leadership qualities as well as footballing skills would head up my list.

    But the point of the above is to avoid getting too gloomy too quickly. We have a great squad and talented young players coming through. The remaining pieces are few to find, but they are also not easy to find by any means.

  • I don’t think we are far off the likes of Barca and I wanted to use this game to gage this. It is clear that Wenger has used this game as well to gage where his squad is, and from his honest and critical comments on the team I reckon we can take that he will make changes this summer. Especially comparing the mistakes made yesterday with the Monaco home debacle was telling in this respect.

  • On chance creation we are up there with the best in Europe. Simply put our weak link is that we, for a top team standard, are very poor in taking our chances. We don’t have top goal scorers. Squandering chances created has been a recurring decimal with us throughout this season. To move that last notch up, our priority must be the acquisition of one or two top goal scorers.

    Walcott is too much of a luxury player. 10 touches only of the ball for nearly a whole half is a luxury no team can afford against arguably the best team in the world. Without everyone giving his all, our defending was bound to cave in at some point, hence my reluctance to blame our defense.

    By our standard, which is one notch below the bests, we played very well. But that can’t satisfy us. We want to be the very best.

  • TA,

    Agreed on your words about us not far off from Barca. Having beaten Leicester makes me have this feeling.

    We just need Welbeck to start up front in Camp Nou.

    He might be the one that is able to get us the equalising goals and hope that we can get out of that cauldron having reached the next round.


  • TA, Glad you enjoyed the Seinfeld… 😀

    AB, I’m looking forward to your more specific comments if you get a chance to watch the match and your bigger picture views align closely with mine, although I have maybe a slight bit less faith in our youth and loan players coming through anytime soon.

    PE, I think the point on Theo has a lot of validity… He really needs to work off Ozil, IMO… He got the nice goal off Giroud’s assist vs Leicester but I wonder about that combo if they were to start a match next to one another. Again, I believe we miss Santi when it comes to somebody just providing easy outlet targets for the more goal focused guys…

    Today, ManU play in the Europa league so I’ll attempt to give that a view. Yesterday ManCity looked reasonably convincing in their away leg at Dynamo Kiev. They are a much better team when Yaya Toure appears even half-motivated…

    IMO, we’re competing well with the English teams over the marathon season we face… The continental game–which I thought was moving somewhat towards the English model 6 or 8 years ago–seems very, very different…

    The Turkish ref on Tuesday called just about everything but also played advantage pretty well. This allows players to either roll around (and waste a minute or two) or keep playing if they sense a real advantage. I thought our biggest failure was recognizing this and using it to slow the match and try to eke out that nil-nil. Wenger is correct that the players were naive in this respect, but I also wonder if he had given them the correct instructions, esp. at half-time after we’d escaped a few mistakes which led to some very close chances for Barca. Afterwards it seemed like they lured us forward without really looking in trouble. Sure, if we had scored it would have been brilliant, but giving up the first goal in the manner we did was a crusher…

    Now it’s about compartmentalizing that game, taking the positives, and preparing for these domestic matches. With Ox out it’s a real chance to see who steps up. Obviously we need goals and everybody (Giroud, Alexis, Theo, Jo-el Camp-bell, DW…) should get chances and, given our desperation, whoever finishes them will see their stock rise. We also need leadership and dominant combination play in MF. Who will step up there? (Elneny has to get some play in the league, I would think…) We should get more time on the ball but we also need to be sure that our mistakes don’t lead to chances the other way. United, Swansea and Totts all can hold the ball themselves in decent fashion and will break at pace. It’s not quite like playing Barca but a lot of the issues are the same and we shouldn’t just count on them lacking the quality to punish us if we aren’t properly focused.

  • Yes, well… Larry David (the George Costanza character) WAS the essence there… I think I heard that he’s coming out with a new season of Curb… I’ve been watching the old Seinfelds with my boy… Pretty fun stuff… In fact, maybe we’ll watch some today… He’s got the (pretty bad) virus now… 😦

    Anything planned between now and preview time?… I could probably turn that comment above into something, if need be…

  • So…A good day for those wanting to see the backside of the Ox… Knee ligament damage has been confirmed… End of his season, most likely, and probably keeps him out of the Euros, too… He can still work with the sports psychologist, however…

    It also maybe explains what happened in the match. It appeared a turned ankle and those things are usually either 3 weeks (until you can play with extra tape…and then 6 months back to full strength) or five minutes. He had the 5 minute ankle but now the 3 month knee…

    Say what you will about the Ox…IMO, he’s got immense talent. He’s still young but gaining “experience” at a rate that’s pretty tough… Hopefully he can make a full recovery and the scars (both mental and physical) only make him stronger…

  • I may write something tomorrow evening, Seventeenho, but would very much appreciate one by you if you can muster one. 🙂

    That is sad about the Ox. He is technically talented and who does not get excited about a fast player with close ball control and a powerful shot? The problem is that he does not seem to be able to adjust to the speed and intensity of the PL and CL with his head/decision making. He has been playing senior football for a while now – 20+ international caps already for example – and had a decent run of games too, but he was not been making enough impact. Most of you pooh-poohed the thought of him going on loan at a team with lower expectations, but that is exactly what should have happened. Sometimes a fish needs to grow in a smaller tank.

    Let’s hope he will come back stronger somehow.

  • TA, I think we agree mostly about the Ox, but maybe less about the nature of loaning players out… This injury, of course, only makes things tougher on him…

    In terms of the immediate prospects for our first team, his spot is now open… Something to discuss in coming days, for sure…

    Anyhow, with the sick kid keeping me house-bound, I should have something ready to post fairly soon…

  • Wish the C well for me, Seventeenho. I am having a bad cold as well, but still have to go out in the cold to get fish and chips and mushy peas.

    Looking forward to your post. 🙂

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