Holed twice, then sunk without trace

Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United

That was a chastening, brutal night for Arsenal.

It’s never easy to be reasonable immediately after a defeat like that, and it’s never easy to reasonably judge a side that was out of the game after 11 minutes – but I will try.

It’s an Arsenal side that was killed by two early errors and which was entirely incapable of dragging itself back into the game. But on a wider level, on this evidence, it is also a side that remains some distance, and several big players away from genuinely challenging for the major honours.

United, it must be said, were superb. I have no problem in saying that. They showed us just how far ahead they are, how experience is key, how winning has bred more winning. In the end, the whole tie – all 180 minutes of it – was lop-sided in the extreme, a total mismatch.

Wenger’s pre-match bullishness and the cauldron atmosphere of the Grove lasted all of 8 minutes. After 11 the game was put to bed.

It was wishful thinking that Utd would be left to rue their first leg profligacy. Instead, they just picked up where they left off and took immediate advantage of those two early mistakes.

At 3-0 down on aggregate with 79 minutes to go, any team would have struggled. Arsenal certainly had no response. We couldn’t test their keeper at all. Calling it “men against babies” is a bit uncharitable – but we didn’t have the wherewithal, we weren’t ever at the races.

There’s no point in analysing individual performances. The team as a unit did not perform, it didn’t do enough in any area of the pitch – up front in particular, where Adebayor was absolutely hopeless (again), and at the back, where we were as leaky as a sieve (again) – but then, at 2-0 down so early on, it was always going to be hard for them to do so. Many of them were industrious enough – they just weren’t good enough to swing the momentum back in Arsenal’s favour against the side that is the benchmark, not just in England but in Europe too.

They just weren’t good enough.

I do feel sorry for Gibbs, thrown into the deep-end and subbed at half-time, but that is football. Small mistakes can and do change games. His, followed by that of Almunia three minutes later, sank Arsenal without trace.

There’s plenty of time for reflection on what happens next – a whole summer in fact. So it can wait.

A deeply despondent Wenger described it as his worst-ever defeat:

“It is the most disappointing night of my career. I felt the fans were really up for a big night and to disappoint people who stand behind the team so much hurts.

The most difficult thing is that we do not have a feeling that we played a semi-final of the Champions League. We were out of it after 10 minutes and we had 80 minutes to play against a team who defend well and wait to counter-attack… I must say we can only look at ourselves. It is very disappointing to fight to get such a long way and to give the game away like we did… We were ready for a fight and the game but after 10 minutes it was impossible. We kept going and we did as much as we could. We played with pride and desire but of course some part of the belief had gone.”

Can’t argue with that.

So overall, a sobering evening. Arsenal were not good enough and to raise another level or two – which we can all see we need to do by next season – is the summer’s big project.

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