Arsenal Champions League Heartbreak – Match Analysis

By Tom Mac

After the smoke is clear, the hangover has faded, the tears have dried and the swollen knuckles have healed, all that remains is the overwhelming sense of injustice from a night that promised so much, in a tie that was ultimately decided by inconsistent refereeing. The most exciting team in this year’s competition has been knocked out, and all of England can rejoice at the prospect of another exhilarating Chelsea vs. Liverpool showdown.

We rightfully complain about being completely and utterly robbed, to a penalty undoubtedly less obvious than both the appeals we had against Liverpool in the last two games, and inevitably, our complaints will see us labelled as whiners. Why can’t opposition fans, Liverpool’s in particular, concede that they won the game thanks to the crucial decisions made by two referees? I would congratulate the opposition for winning, albeit behind gritted teeth, if the victory was deserved, but it clearly was not.

Rafael Benitez, of course, claimed Liverpool were worthy winners, and for years now, the world has been trying to unravel the secret to Rafa’s exceptional record in Europe. Well I think I’ve got it – he’s the world’s luckiest manager! Arsenal have many celebrity fans, from the Queen to Osama Bin Laden, but Liverpool’s trumps them all. They have God cheering them on. So good luck for the next round Rafa, not that you need it.

We dominated Liverpool for three out of four games, and were certainly worthy of a share of the spoils last night, but we come out with three draws and a loss. Yes, abysmal officiating played its part, but our players must take a share of the blame, for missing chances, and for some dreadful lapses in concentration. It was certainly a debatable penalty decision, but what was Kolo doing? Flapping his arms around like he thought he could fly, Toure has been a mess since the African Cup of Nations. Senderos, meanwhile, was simply useless. Hyppia scored a fantastic header, but he should never have been allowed the space to convert it. Torres scored from an excellent finish that Liverpool fans have become accustomed to, but how could Senderos give him such freedom in the box? I have stood by Senderos for a long time, but I am no longer convinced he has the makings of a world class Premiership centre back.

As a final gripe, I’d like to ask how on earth was Mascherano not booked? He had already made two sly fouls before he cynically slid into Diaby from behind, scissoring his legs to pull him down and still he didn’t see yellow. Liverpool’s entire defence would have been severely compromised had Mascherano been on a yellow card for the second half.

Many will argue that Walcott deserved to start. They certainly have an argument, but Arsene’s gameplan worked pretty well for me. Eboue actually had a decent game, although his distribution was poor at times. Theo wouldn’t have gaps like that to tear into earlier in the match. Adebayor demonstrated his Jekyll and Hyde like ability to cause Liverpool untold problems while constantly running offside, and to both score and miss a sitter, but I am confident he will continue to improve, and justifies his place in the team.

So, not for the first time in a game of football, and undoubtedly not for the last, the better side lost. But have you ever felt such an overwhelming sense of unjust? Bitter fans of other clubs please join in (Everton fans are especially welcome – I remember how you were defeated against Liverpool at Goodison, and I’ve seen the league standings at www.therightresult.co.uk). The next most painful, undeserved loss I can currently remember has to be the end of the Invincibles at Old Trafford, but last night’s defeat eclipsed even that.

Tonight, Barcelona take on Shalke, and they are surely the only challenge to the prospect of another English club winning the Champions League. Please Thierry, give us one last memory to love you for, and stop the Scousers, Mancs and Chavs achieving a triumph that they would never let us forget.