Arsene Wenger initially appeared to have his tactics spot on against Barcelona, and we were playing the game perfectly in the first half. A couple of individual mistakes and some poor tactical decisions in the second half gave us a mountain to climb in the second leg, and Wenger needs to take a large part of the blame.
We’re staunch Wenger supporters here at All Arsenal for the most part, but that doesn’t mean we’re blind to his faults. He made mistakes against Barcelona, and those mistakes should be recognised.
The first mistake was arguably thrust upon him, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury forcing him to make a premature change. The Ox may have missed that gilt edged chance and failed to cross early enough during that fantastic counter, but the role he was playing was key.
For once the Englishman was being incredibly diligent with his defensive duties, and was supporting Hector Bellerin superbly – doubling up on Neymar and marshalling Jordi Alba when necessary. He was also getting the balance between attack and defence spot on though, and was contributing hugely going forward; even if his end product was lacking.
The whole dynamic changed drastically following his injury though, and that was no doubt in large part due to the introduction of Theo Walcott. The speedster barely touched the ball during his time on the field, and really had very little impact. He was totally ineffective and loitered on the outskirts of play for the entire game.
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Walcott isn’t known for his defensive work-rate, so naturally we instantly became a little more exposed, with Neymar enjoying far more success against Bellerin in the second half.
Wenger really should have known what Walcott would bring to the side, and there were other options he could have made. Danny Welbeck eventually came on for Olivier Giroud, but instead the former Manchester United man could have come on in a wide position. He would have given us far more industry up the flanks, and probably would have been generally more involved than Walcott throughout.
If Walcott was going to play a part in this game, it should really have been as a striker. In many ways, Walcott is a luxury player. He’s not skilful or full of tricks, but he is extremely one dimensional and doesn’t offer a whole lot more than what you see. He hangs on the shoulders of the last man, waiting to make those diagonal runs. They can be very effective, but against Barcelona we can’t have one of our wide men just waiting for a defence splitting pass.
The Ox’s injury unquestionably changed the game, and whether there was anything Wenger could have done about it we’ll never know. What we do know however, is that bringing Walcott on to replace him wasn’t the answer.
Wenger’s second mistake was obviously to bring Mathieu Flamini on for Francis Coquelin. The ageing Frenchman is totally incapable of doing a job anymore, as we’ve seen on countless occasions. Every Arsenal fan let out a collective groan when Flamini came on, and it wasn’t even a surprise when his first involvement was to give away a penalty.
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The players obviously have to take the blame too, and our poor finishing and the individual mistakes that led to the goals were the main factors in our loss, but Wenger’s poor choices made things all the more difficult for us to get anything from the game.