The perception of Arsenal, and how they are seen around Europe was summed up when Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm picked up a suspicious looking booking with less than seven minutes to go. It puts him out of the second leg, but conveniently means he shouldn’t be in danger of a suspension in the rest of the tournament. I’m not accusing Lahm of getting deliberately booked, but he brought the man down 30 yards from goal. If Arsenal score from there it’s 4-2 and maybe it’s game on again.
Lahm looked like he know what he was doing, and that shows what European sides think of Arsenal. In Europe they’ve become pushovers and they haven’t been taken seriously for a long time in this competition. The Gunners always find a way to get themselves knocked out. It’s sad, because they used to be one of the best teams, they used to be a force in the Premier League and they used to be a feared in Europe. Now, they’re just gone.
In 2013 they lost 3-1 in the first leg of the last 16 to Bayern, but went to Munich and won 2-0. This was the worst thing that could have happened to Arsenal, because people at the club were thinking, ‘We’re alright, we’re not far off.’ The same happened with Monaco two seasons ago. They’re great results winning in Munich and Monaco, but they still got knocked out of the competition.
It’s hard for Munich to approach a game at 5-1 up, so it would be no surprise to see Arsenal wining one or two-nil and the cycle kicks off again. Wenger’s side are a million miles off for what’s required to compete at this level.
They just have to face reality to make a decision to not be fooled by mistakes from the past.
Arsene Wenger transformed the club and arguably changed the entire Premier League. He’ll be as disappointed as anyone at the capitulation last Wednesday, but now he’s got to decide whether he is still the best man for the job.
A different manager at Arsenal could get more out of these players. Rafa Benítez and Diego Simeone are managers who could both add great value to that team. Arsenal should finish in the top four and could win the FA Cup. Other teams – like Liverpool – would jump at the chance for that. But you’ve got to put the season in prospective. The manner of Arsenal’s defeats have been the most disappointing thing.
Arsenal have won two FA Cups in three years and should be in another semi-final now barring an embarrassing result to Lincoln. But beating Preston, Southampton and two non-league sides to get to a semi-final shouldn’t paper over the cracks which have been evident again this season.
I fancied Arsenal to do something in November, but within five days during December I knew that this crop of players weren’t going to win the Premier League or the Champions League. They threw away a lead and lost two games to Everton and Man City in the space of five days. Top teams don’t do that.
When Arsenal come up against the big teams they always find a way to come up short. This team doesn’t have enough leaders, heart, steel or character to do it when the chips are down and they come up against a better side. Technically they are as good as any side in the Premier League, but they simply don’t produce the goods.
The responsibility has got to come back to the manager. Wenger has put a lot of trust and faith in some of these players and he’s been badly let down. It’s one thing when you buy somebody – you see the talent and the ability. But sometimes you only see how they behave and how they react in stressful situations when they’re already at your club.
I never believed the hype about Mesut Ozil, but he shouldn’t be treated as a scapegoat either. The bottom line with Arsenal is they’ve got some players who play in September, October and November but don’t turn up in February and March. That’s when it matters. There’s a reason Real Madrid sold Ozil.
I think since Alex Song left the club, Arsenal haven’t addressed the fact that they lack a proper defensive midfielder. They’ve got Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny who are OK players – but OK isn’t good enough for Arsenal. Xhaka could have been the man to do it, but it hasn’t turned out that way.
He’s been a major disappointment. He dives in and gets himself sent off, he gives away silly free-kicks and gets himself suspended. Xhaka is a capable player and hopefully we see that in years to come, but so far he hasn’t lived up to expectation either. He’s caused them more harm than good this season.
These Arsenal players just make bad decisions at the worst times and hence they’re miles off the best sides in Europe. The last 16 of the Champions League comes down to making good choices, your mentality and being streetwise. Arsenal aren’t any of these.