In many ways the way in which we went out of the tie against Atletico was emblematic of the final years of Arsène’s reign as manager.
Defensively not at the races, offensively not quite potent enough, with players that at times look like they were trying but ultimately the team just wasn’t good enough.
Weirdly though, despite how nervous I was before the game, in the cold light of day today I don’t feel as bad and down as I thought I would do. That’s probably because I set myself up for one of those nights like when we play Barca or Bayern. You know, an early goal, followed by a second and maybe a third against us, then a whole second half of Arsenal players paddling against the onrushing tide.
Had I been any kind of regular Spanish Football watcher I’d probably have realised that it isn’t exactly the Simeone Atletico way. His way is of defensive solidity. The Argentine sets up his team to first not lose, then progress forward from that. A solid foundation n’all that.
And ultimately that’s where this tie was won over two legs. Despite more possession, despite more attempts on and off target, despite knowing that we need to get the ball out wide to get in behind the Atleti defence, we simply weren’t good enough to break down an inspired Godín and his Madrid team.
That is some defence they have though. Bodies on the line, compact, good in breaking up play and fantastic at those last ditch tackling.
It was at halftime in the first leg that I realised that this wasn’t just Atletico putting on a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ performance in London, it was the way they play anyway and now that we have the benefit of hindsight, I have absolutely no idea how or why any Arsenal fan thought we would stand a better chance over two legs than one.
Arsène named a line up that you’d expect and in came all of the normal players that you’d expect to play. Even Ospina seemed the right choice to me. He’s nowhere near as good as Cech in most areas of goalkeeping except for his distribution and with Atletico pressing occasionally and him not just lumping it forward for Godín and Jimenez to mop up, I thought he did ok.
It’s just a shame that both of our ‘keepers have to play in front of the car crash of a defence we have and whilst I must confess to envy for what Atletico’s back line delivered, what ours served up was pretty turgid and let’s face it, cost us a place in the final.
In the first leg it was Koscielny with his stupid attempt at an over the shoulder clearance and last night it was Bellerin who was simply not watching what was going on around him. If he had been he’d have seen Costa on his shoulder getting in behind. Diego Costa. One of the most potent strikers in Europe. And you’re just ambling back.
In truth though, one of football’s biggest clichés – the goal changed nothing because of Atletico’s away goal in the first leg – was true and despite going behind in the first half we had a whole second half to try to get one back.
And we had our chances. Monreal overran a ball in behind, Lacazette got in only to have a heavy second touch, Ramsey got in behind late on only to bundle the ball wide. But for all of that it was just a Xhaka long range shot that tested Oblak. And that is where the frustration kicks in because we knew we had to push forward and score and yet at times it felt like that old ‘handbrake’ was on.
We needed our ‘big’ players to step up and last night we didn’t get that. I think most of the game passed Özil by and whilst he was good in the second half in patches, the fact that I didn’t even see him touch the call for the first 15 minutes pretty much tells it’s own story.
I thought Ramsey was better and certainly made himself more available last night than Özil, but he had his chances and failed and he looked leggy towards the end of the game, which usually means his tricks and flicks come off less and less with every passing minute.
Likewise I think our fullbacks weren’t exactly great and with Atletico a compact team who concede possession out on the flanks, you need your wide players and full backs to be good with their distribution. Bellerin was woeful. I think I counted at least three overhit crosses and when you add his brain fart switch off in defence, it tallies up to a poor night, by his standards.
I said this last night and I stick by it, if someone like Barcelona come in with a £50million bid for Bellerin, you have to consider it. I think he’s a good player and he’s just fallen victim to the calamity that is an Arsène Wenger defensive set up, but if the rumours of us having only £50-£60million to spend on players is true, then you need to bolster your coffers by offloading him, getting that kitty up to £100million and spending the money on a new ‘keeper, centre half and right back. And I’m not buying any of this “£30million doesn’t get you much these days” rubbish; look around Europe and away from England and you can see that actually if you are sensible enough then you certainly can pick up players for that. Let’s have Sven earn his cheddar.
So back to where we are now, which is out of Europe and a season which I think we can all agree, can end now for all we care. There might be a bit of a farewell party atmosphere on Sunday against Burnley but I have the handy excuse that it’s my mother’s birthday, so I won’t be there and frankly the way I feel now, it’s probably better that Arsenal and I have our time apart for a bit.
Let me recharge my batteries and then get excited for the new season when the new manager comes in.
Catch you all tomorrow.