It's been 24 hours since Arsenal lost 2-0 at home to Barcelona and maybe it's better to have waited that long before writing about the game. Arsenal's priorities may lie elsewhere this season, but it was still a chance to ply their wits against the best club side in the world. Unfortunately the result went against them and there can be nobody to blame but the players themselves with the possible exception of a transfer policy which sees us short of enough quality in certain positions while we have a very healthy bank balance.
When Arsenal won their first free kick in the Barca half I was delighted to see Mertesacker run straight back to his position when the ball was cleared. Regaining your defensive formation when retreating to prevent a counter attack is crucial and his retreat showed it had obviously been drilled into the players. When he failed to do so in the second half it led to their first goal and with that any hopes Arsenal had over the two legs or even of getting a morale boosting result on the night were gone.
It is a captain's job to lead the players on the pitch and to make sure each player is doing the job set out for him before the game. Mertesacker was the captain last night and it's inexcusable for him to be the one abandoning the pre match plans in favour of gross stupidity. If you can't depend on a captain to lead by example who can you depend on ?
The rest of the team didn't cover themselves in glory either as they attempted to make up for Mertesacker's mistake, but the blame lies squarely at his door. If he had taken the man out and taken a yellow card for the team that would have been quite acceptable, but to slide in, miss the tackle and take himself out of the game was just ridiculous. Maybe if Gabriel Paulista wasn't injured he might have done better in that situation, but the chances are Mertesacker would have been picked ahead of him.
The second goal didn't leave Mertesacker covered in glory either, but it showed us why so many fans are so unfond of seeing Mathieu Flamini play. I can only imagine he came on for Francis Coquelin because Coquelin was injured or knackered, but his first contribution was to hand Barca a penalty. Mertesacker's attempted clearance (or was it a cushioned pass) was a joke and the only thing worse was Flamini's ridiculous attempted tackle on Lionel Messi which was a stonewall penalty. Messi made no mistake from the spot and laid to rest the statistic of never scoring against Petr Cech with both goals.
To make matters worse I thought Arsenal had weathered a lot of what Barca had to throw at them by that stage and looked good for the draw or maybe even to try to nick a winner. I know it had to be a very tiring night for the Arsenal players and mental fatigue probably played a part in the mistakes too. There are many fans who believe we cannot compete at the very top when we have to rely on Mertesacker and Flamini among others at times and it's very hard to argue with them after last night.
It could have been worse too I suppose with Cech doing all that could be expected of him and Luis Suarez hitting a post late on too. Arsenal did have their chances though and their inability to take the chances which came their way cost them. That was the fourth time in their last six home games that they failed to score and the fifth time in eight games home or away and it's a very worrying statistic.
Aaron Ramsey would have had a great chance early on, but the ball from Mesut Ozil was just behind him and Barca managed to get bodies in the way of most other Arsenal attempts. The big chance of the first half fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but his failure to get enough behind the ball from five yards out was exactly the sort of chance you cannot miss against Barca. He had a great chance to set something up on the break late in the first half, but a heavy touch saw him lose the ball and the resulting collision led to the injury which saw him depart early in the second half.
We can complain all we like about the gamesmanship of many of the Barca players, but you know what to expect when you play them. They could have had a red card if the referee had seen one of their players push his head into Olivier Giroud's head after pretending Giroud had caught him in the face. It's certainly not nice to see the diving and feigning injury from their players, but it's universally accepted as part of their game and they're seldom if ever punished for it.
On the plus side I thought Alexis Sanchez looked good in the first half at least and just maybe he is getting some form back. If Arsenal are going to lift a trophy this season Alexis is a player who will need to play a big part in the rest of the season and his form is crucial for the team. He has the ability to turn a game on his own and it's something we need to see a lot more often in the next three months.
To be honest Arsenal went into the tie with very little hope of progression and their priority has to be the Premier League this season. A morale boosting win or draw would have been great last night, but there's precious little time to dwell on the game with three league games coming up in quick succession. The first of them is away to United on Sunday and it's an absolute must win game for me. I'll be previewing that game nearer to the day and hopefully I'll have a competition based on the game with a few prizes for readers too.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.