After yet another defeat like this one, it is difficult to write a measured and well thought piece without it simply sounding like a rant. In the immediate aftermath of such a loss, emotions are often heightened and a cooling off period is required whereby what is then written can at least be considered constructive.
In a way, emotions in the moment are what Twitter is for I feel. Personally, I prefer to stay away from Twitter whilst the game is going on, preferring to make my own judgements on a match and then reading the views of others at half time and once a game is over. When Arsenal are on, I do not need the distraction of being wound up by someone retweeting Piers Morgan’s thoughts on to my feed.
On Wednesday, throughout the first half, I could not take my eyes off the game. Arsenal were not particularly good, but Alexis Sanchez’s penalty miss/reaction combo meant that we were still in the game when half time arrived. 1-1 at the break, considering how we had started, was positive, even if Granit Xhaka and then Mesut Ozil both had opportunities to make things even better. At the time, level pegging was probably fair.
Then we went to pot, and it is to state the obvious when I say Laurent Koscielny’s injury was a huge blow to our chances. It felt as if that moment happened so quickly. The captain overstretched, David Ospina took a small risk out wide and was fouled, but as the camera panned on him suddenly, it cut to Gabriel stripping off. A seemingly innocuous clearance from the Frenchman meant the end of his night and I think there was an instant feeling of ‘we might be in trouble now’.
Alas, we were, and within ten minutes of Koscielny’s exit, we were effectively out of the Champions League with 120 minutes of the tie remaining.
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This was at the point I turned to Twitter. Whereas my sole focus had previously been willing the players on, shouting for them to keep tight, track runners, improve their passing, now it was gone. Why should I care so much when they don’t look like they do? It is horrible to say, but the Gunners at this point almost became background noise. Unfortunately, I was still paying enough attention to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late horror show, which really put the outcome beyond doubt.
Attention online and in the BT studio naturally and quickly turned to the future of Arsene Wenger and his role, both in the present and the future. Frankly, I think those in the ‘stay’ camp are literally dwindling by the week now, although it is well documented quite how monumental replacing him will be on the basis that he’s not just manager of the team, but basically the only person around the place that supposedly knows what he is doing.
Aside from that though, there really was not much non-Arsenal-supporter criticism of the players last night, usual suspect Ozil notwithstanding. Fans of other clubs and ‘banter accounts’ take great pride and joy in mocking the German, despite being just one of four or five that were totally anonymous throughout the 90 minutes.
Yes, the buck stops with Wenger. However, to absolve the players of any blame would be ridiculous too. Oxlade-Chamberlain was widely praised for his passion for shouting at teammates and applauding the fans, though I suspect his was racked with guilt by the complete mess he had made to allow Thomas Muller to score their fifth. Until that moment, he had done little of note other than a cross to set up Xhaka after we had equalised but creating one chance really is not enough in a game of this magnitude.
On the other side, Alex Iwobi toiled for large spells, barely involved at all in truth. It was very different from his buzzy and positive display at the Nou Camp last season, where he was simply chucked in because we had already failed in the home leg. I do think the Nigerian has been mistreated this season, being played and relied upon far too often for someone of his age and experience. Last night, his inclusion did surprise me, despite the fact he has become such a regular.
In midfield, Xhaka made very few tackles despite Bayern having almost all of the ball, whilst his partner Francis Coquelin made even less. In fact, the Frenchman contributed two less challenges than Ozil, completed less passes in 79 minutes than Joshua Kimmich did in six minutes for them and can be apportioned some of the blame for the first goal.
The whole world and his wife know Arjen Robben enjoys sprinting down the right, cutting it in and smashing the ball with his wonderful left peg. Why Coquelin thought showing him inside was a good idea we will never know. It was, for want of a better term, completely stupid.
Hector Bellerin disappointed me, though he was often left alone to combat Douglas Costa and David Alaba whilst the brainless midfielders all stormed forward. On the left, Kieran Gibbs showed, to me at least, why Nacho Monreal has been preferred in the position for the last 18 months, whilst the honeymoon is certainly over for Skhodran Mustafi. Similarly, to Oxlade-Chamberlain, it is a little difficult to take someone seriously when they scream and shout at everyone else but do not carry out their own job.
Therefore, the nightmare is not quite over, with the pointless return leg still to come. The saddest reality of all? With this manager, these players and in this competition, yet again there is a high chance that Arsenal will just become that glorified background noise.
It is a sad state of affairs.