16 March 2016

Why the #&%£@$ can't Arsenal play like that against anyone else?

3-1, the final scoreline. 5-1, the aggregate. On its face, we had our arses handed to us. However, looking past that, we did far better than expected, regardless of form going into each leg. Against one of the most-fearsome three-headed hydras the world has yet seen and may ever seen, we more than held our own for the lion's share of three hours of football. In fact, in this and in the previous encounter, all that separated us, really, was a handful of glitches at our end and just as many moments of brilliance at theirs,  Yes, on paper, there's a massive, yawning chasm in class between us and them. No real shame in that, to be honest. On the pitch, however, we showed that we can bridge that chasm. Why, then, can we not play to that level more often?

All the talk going into this second leg focused on how Barcelona eviscerated Getafe 6-0 while Arsenal had sleep-walked to a humiliating 1-2 loss to Watford. On one hand, the results suggest a gap in competitiveness between one league and another. Fine. Dandy. The ineluctable conclusion of all of that talk, apparently, was that Barcelona would obliterate Arsenal. In the end, they did emerge with a quite-comfortable 3-1 win—but that's a scoreline that belies the competitiveness of the match itself. As with the first leg, Arsenal showed for long, long stretches that it was capable of giving as good as it got. Even if the end-result is the same as it's been all too often in this competition, there is still something to be taken from the process if not the result.

No, it wasn't quite as stirring as it was against Bayern or AC Milan, among others, but if our squad can emerge from this with the confidence of knowing that it went toe-to-toe with what might be the world's best squad in a generation, well, then, we can pencil ourselves in for a nine-match winning streak. If our squad can summon the same intensity, fervor, and focus that it showed in this and in the first leg—and eliminate those vital moments when we switched off—no one in the Prem can stop us.

Each of those is a massive "if", though.

We had our chances, but we either squandered them or saw individual moments of brilliance deny us. How many times did Mascherano or der Steger come up with miraculous, last-gasp saves? How many times did we put a gilt-edged chance a bit wide or high?  Were it not for our own wastefulness or the eyes-wide-shut saves, we might have even taken a lead. Had Iwobi sold his contact with Mascherano just before halftime,...had Alexis's header been angled more tightly...had Welbeck curled his shot just a bit more...

Contrast that feeling with the one from Saturday, when we lost at home against Watford. The result is the same: dumped out of a cup. However, the process is markedly different. Arsenal is not supposed to lose at home to Watford. That's not petty boasting; that's reality. Had Arsenal played against Watford, Tottenham, Swansea, or Man U as we did against Barcelona on either side, we'd be through to the FA Cup semifinal and just three points behind Leicester in the Prem.

This all sounds like quite a lot to make of having crashed out 5-1 on aggregate, but let's face it: Barcelona are light-years ahead of all but two or three other squads in the universe at the moment, and that aggregate scoreline does flatter them just a bit. Never mind the gulf in class between us and them; that's a bridge too far.  If we could just stop letting others bridge the gap between them and us, well, we'd be looking at winning a double, if not a treble (with League Cup, not Champions League, as the third, for those keeping score).

Although we didn't mount that all-too Arsenal-ish second-leg "almost" comeback, I still believe that there's enough in the performance to resurrect hopes of an epic resurrection over the last two months of the Prem campaign. We've taken a few on the chin, but we're still contenders.