Messi masks Arsene’s Arrogance

Much will be made of barca, or rather Messi’s quality after this game. But make no mistake, this game was lost by Arsene. We could have won. This was not barca’s master class. It was nothing more than the epitome of managerial arrogance. There are times a manager must forgo philosophy; he must settle into the storm of reality and right the ship. Arsene did none of this. Instead he left his players floundering and asked more than he gave. He used an inexplicable strategy that led to a predictable failure.

Arsene has often been criticized for failing to adjust his tactics to the situation. Consumed with demonstrating the “right” way to play soccer, he often forgoes tactical changes to adjust to his opponents or his players. This is unfortunate, managers must adjust to reality. Reality in this case means recognizing that 5 of the starting 11 are injured. It means our defensive back line was completely decimated with the loss of Gallas, Song and Sol. It meant starting one player (Rosicky) that was just 50/50 before the game and played like it. Finally, it means respecting your opponents.

Instead of helping his players, Arsene asked them to do too much. Against any other team, maintaining our fluid attacking 4-3-3 might make sense; but against barca, Arsene went too far. Arsene asked Nasri and Diaby to compensate for a haphazard back line while carrying the offensive load against a team that lives by holding possession. So instead of throwing in another defensive midfielder, if only to take up space and relieve some of the burden, we went full force as if we were playing Wolverhampton again.

We played a front three of Bendtner, Walcott and Rosicky. This was inane. Although I understand why Walcott might, emphasize “might,” start given his last game, he and Rosicky were defensive liabilities in a game we knew we needed defensive help. It pains me to write this, but these are mistakes Fergie and Jose don’t make. These are the mistakes that decide trophies. These are the reasons you buy players if you don’t trust Eastmond and Merida.

In a game without Fab to run our offense, we relied on Nasri and Diaby. One problem, those two were playing full pitch for the entire match. Unlike the last game, where Diaby could pass the ball up to Fab and Nasri could pressure the ball. Now, both players had to cover the defense, take the ball up and pressure the midfield -too much with a fourth string CB to protect against Messi. As a result, we paid the price; it was painful to watch them taken out of the game offensively because they had to run the entire pitch constantly pressuring the ball. Both players were keeping energy in reserve not to attack, but to run back and defend. But it still wasn’t enough. Nasri consistently ran out of energy with the ball. Diaby lost his touch.

Worse yet, this was obvious at the end of the half. Watching the players walk off at the half should have sent Arsene a clear message to change his tactics: Diaby was visibly heaving and Nasri was moving incredibly slow.

I had hoped that at the half Arsene would respond, that we would see significant changes, an acceptance of reality and tactical adaptation. A move to gut out the game.  Arsene finally gave into the vortex of realty when he subbed Eboue for Silvestre, recognizing the destruction of our back line. But this dose of reality and risk taking took far too long. Faith in players is fine, but when push comes to shove, it’s the manager’s responsibility to adjust the team. But no, we stuck with a philosophy. Now Arsene will hide behind the media line and hail the unstoppable Messi. The only problem, he never really tried.

-the student


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