The Great Producer in the Sky should sit back with a satisfied smile draw on a Havana and sip his interval champagne.
The whole production ran exactly to script, a tragedy interlaced with bitter comedy, the serial victims haplessly hunting down their next mugger.
No other team has ever boasted a forward line like Saurez, Neymar and Messi. So it is surely no disgrace to be beaten by them? Of course it is not, they pose an individual and collective threat unparalleled in modern football. In contrast, the same positions were filled for Arsenal by Giroud and er, um, perm any two from Ozil, Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey. Who individually and collectively can pose a lack of threat unparalleled in modern football.
Hang on a minute there – wasn’t Ramsey selected as one of the ‘holding midfield players’, what is he doing in with that lot? Well, yes, he was, but nobody ever seems to think to tell him what that actually means and he is normally to be found galloping frantically back towards his own goal from the opposing penalty box, overtaking centre forward Giroud, hence his much-heralded, prodigious yet in reality under-productive ‘mileage’ every match. More of that to follow.
The first 45 minutes were quite a surprise. Arsenal compact in defence, terrier-like in challenge, hunting in packs across the midfield, breaking well, Arsene surely content at the execution of the battle plan as he cradled his half-time cuppa, despite two ominous chances to Barca on 46 minutes following woeful misplacement of a Hollywood pass by Ramsey (which was intended for a clearly lame and limping Ox !)
Regrettably, the two bigger chances to grab a lead had fallen to the same woefully out of form and confidence Oxlade-Chamberlain, (a dubious selection over the woefully out of form Walcott and the woefully out of his depth Campbell), the first on twenty minutes when he found himself centre of goal, ball at his feet and managed only a pathetic scuffed fluff of a shot into the arms of keeper with the whole goal at his mercy. The second, late on in the half, where his poor third touch, when clear on the right flank resulted in a loss of control, a collision, an injury and arms raised in despair from Ozil and Giroud, both centre stage and clear to his left.
Threat ? Well, not one shot flew fiercely towards the Barca goal, there had not been a hint of venom or aggression in the execution of the ‘finishing’. No save had been made, other than a grateful gathering of Ox’s scuffed effort.Petr Cech had been more active.
The Second Act, as with all good comic-tragedies, started with a comic thread. Oxlade-Chamberlain, felled when mis-controlling towards the end of the first half and having limped gratefully and painfully to the dressing room, then, to the amazement of most, limped back out again, walked painfully around for several minutes, dropped to one knee and waved, and Theo eventually organised himself and replaced him. The Ox walked slowly off looking a confused, defeated young man. There is much to do before he can be considered a contender again, if ever. Time to cash in, Arsene.
What ? Is our Physio so inept he cannot diagnose a crippled player in 15 minutes in the dressing room? Let’s bring in match pundit Jack Wilshere for a comment on that one. Is Arsene so unhappy with Walcott and Campbell that he only sees them as a last resort ?
Something about the game has changed, perhaps a slight Barca tweak, I cannot spot what, but we are not containing them quite so well, the game is a bit less controlled, their attacks a tad more direct.
Theo receives a nice pass, but the excitement is swiftly quashed as it transpires to be an instance of his now trademark offside positioning and timing. It is the last threat that he poses in a dire performance.
In the 59 th minute a period of pressure resulted in a fine effort from Giroud thwarted by a good save by at the foot of his right post. On 64 mins the ball flies around the Barca box, the defence holds firm in response, the game is opening and still Arsenal are a more than equal participant.
70 minutes, still we press well but without any real direct threat and from a cross from right winger Bellerin, three passes and left winger Neymar, runs at the right full-back Mertesacker, slips Saurez clear to slip the ball past centre-half Monreal and Messi, completely unmarked on the right, scores. Simples.
The previous statement contains several incorrect statements – identify and discuss.
Mugged again. Borrusia, Monaco, Olympiakos, so many occasions. The BT pundit slows it down and pronounces ‘look at Ramsey and Coquelin – both in front of the ball – they should not leave Mertesacker exposed like that ‘. Of course they bloody shouldn’t ! Our effing great big German has every right to be seething, as he clearly was post-match, because once again, the boss had given the holding midfield role to a player too undisciplined to execute it and another not experienced enough at this level to read the the danger.
The discipline starts to slip, Saurez hits a post, Sanchez displays his trademark goal-facing dispossessions, Ozil disappears, Ramsey fails to convert a half-chance – the ball falling to him these days just about guarantees that the goalie pulling a muscle taking the goal kick will be our only chance of any gain from it.
The final lunacy comes from our Arsene, when for reasons quite inexplicable, he brings Flamini on for Coquelin. A totally pointless substitution. Within 45 seconds Flamini trips Messi, the penalty flies straight and true.
Game Over. No hiding Arsene, the players make the errors of judgement, sure. But they have made them before over, and over, and over again.
Over to you Arsene.