Feb 202011

“Arsenal’s Champions League dreams were in tatters last night after Barcelona ruthlessly tore them apart in a display worthy of the best team in generations. The warning signs were there early on, but when Van Persie’s shot was well saved by Valdes you sensed that such chances needed to be taken. The worry was proved accurate minutes later when Villa released Messi after good interplay. Szczesny came out and delayed committing until the last moment, but Messi dinked the ball over him at the last second, and despite Koscielny’s chase, the ball nestled into the corner.

Soon after it was two, with Messi returning the favour to Villa, playing him through before the Spaniard fired underneath Szczesny. The Pole kept Arsenal in it with good saves from Pedro, but two goals down at the break was the nightmare scenario for the home side. It was to get worse – Eboue gave the ball away and Messi was played through again. Arsenal’s nemesis again finished in style, just inside the near post. 3-0 and the tie was as good as over.

The home fans began to get restless, and focused some of their ire on their stars, Van Persie bearing the brunt when his ridiculous effort from the tightest of angles was easily fielded by Valdes, covering his near post well. Arsenal did get a consolation, the best goal of the night so far, Arshavin finishing a sweeping move, but the celebrations were muted.

The Russian quickly went from hero to villain, however, when his weak back header rebounded off his arm. The penalty award was harsh, but it finally killed the tie. 4-1 to the visitors and Arsenal’s Champions League dreams were over.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one second that we were lucky on Wednesday night. Both teams missed chances, and that we came away with a positive result was due to our resilience and a pair of stunning goals in the second half, taking advantage of a Barcelona side unable to sustain their level for ninety minutes. What I am trying to point out is that football runs on the tightest of tightropes – sometimes the marginal incidents sway massively towards one team, and it has an enormous impact on how we view the abilities of the two teams. On Wednesday, there wasn’t such a sway, but there could have been, and the reaction would have been horrific.

And it works both ways – by all accounts Barcelona ripped us to shreds in the Nou Camp last season. But it was out of their control that Diaby missed a glorious chance to play the pass that could easily have led to us taking a two goal lead, and Messi had one of those freakish evenings where everything he tried came off. Exactly as in the above scenario, everything marginal went for them. We’d view that tie very differently had we had more luck, or not messed up the critical moments.

But imagine the above report was the one we’d all woken up to on Thursday morning. What do you think the reaction would have been? I’ll save you the bother – calls for Wenger’s head, claims that his youth project has failed, that we could never match Barcelona at their own game, that Cesc, Wilshere and many more would leave in the summer, that our season would disintegrate to the point where our trophy drought would continue and the club would unravel.

While that sounds ridiculous, it is sadly the way many react to a single setback. We could have been hammered on Wednesday had Barcelona taken their chances, alternatively we could have been in an even better position had Van Persie’s trusty left foot not missed two first half chances. As I said, football at this level can sway from one extreme to the other based on incredibly fine lines. It is the same reason one team can hammer another 6-0 in the league one week, only to get knocked out of the cup by the same opposition a week later. Did one side improve dramatically in a week? Or course not – sometimes things go for you, sometimes they don’t.

Cup football is often called a lottery, and this is why – on any given day, everything can go against you, and you can be knocked out. Remember the Leeds goal in the recent cup replay? It was an absolute screamer that neither our defence or Szczesny could do anything about. Now imagine that happening three times in a match – chances are, you’ll lose, and despite the fact there would be many recriminations, the reality it simply that it would be one of those things. Shit happens, to put it another way.

Over the course of a season, these things start to balance, which is why a team’s true ability can be gleaned from their league position. But cup football is a different animal, as is any individual match.

Food for thought next time we lose a game. We can point fingers as much as we like (because you’ll always be able to pick an underperforming player out of eleven, win or lose), we can claim that X should be sold or Y should be dropped, but what cannot be denied is that we are an excellent team. We’re not in all four competitions by accident, we’re not providing a genuine title tilt by fluke, and we didn’t beat a Barcelona team who played at the highest standard because everything went our way.

Undoubtedly there will be a match between now and the end of the season where everything goes against us – a stunning goal, a dodgy penalty, woodwork denying us, that sort of thing. That’s football. All I ask is that when it happens, we don’t start thinking we’re crap, dissecting Wenger’s transfer policy, or start calling it the demise of the football club. It’ll be a defeat. That’s all.

Perspective is hard to come by in football, from fans to the chairmen with itchy trigger fingers. That comes from passion, which can be fantastic in itself – witness the atmosphere on Wednesday if you doubt that. But misplaced, it can be hugely destructive – players getting abuse on Twitter, reading their own fans turning on them (make no mistakes, many players do read blogs), and that can turn a single defeat into a disaster.

This could be a stunning season if we stay united, recreate Wednesday’s electrifying atmosphere, and stick with the players along the bumpy road. Let’s do it.

  29 Responses to “Football’s fine lines – the alternative Arsenal-Barcelona story”

  1. You should read Hugh Everett. The physicist who invented the theory of Parallell Universes might help you to stay with what is and use your time in the now and not the then….

    • You miss the point. What I’m saying is that on another day, things will go badly against us, and when they do, we shouldn’t suddenly forget all that has come before and write the team off.

  2. if my aunt had bollox’s, she’d be me uncle….

  3. Did anybody else stop reading after the first paragraph of explenation of the story?

    Here’s my version:

    Barca boarded their flight but the ground crew forgot to put in enough fuel for the 400 mile journey. The plane came down just off the west French coast and Arsenal received a free pass into the quarter finals. Football moarned the loss of one of the truely great footballing sides.

    I mean seriously – when do you want your imagination to step in and start filling in the gaps??

    It was 2-1. We won – onto the return leg we go.

    • Yeah, I know, and I can tell you haven’t read the rest of the piece.

      As I’ve already said, my point is that football is based on fine lines. Things can do very for you, or against you. Had everything gone perfectly (e.g. Van Persie scoring with every chance he had), we could have won by a few, but had the reverse happened, the tie could be over.

      At the moment, we are on a massive high, and rightly so, but at some point this season we’ll lose a match we perhaps shouldn’t. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t lose the faith when that happens.

      You have completely missed the point of the article, but perhaps that’s because I lost you before you actually read what the point was.

  4. wat an idiot!!

  5. Hmm, lots of people not reading the article and assuming I’m slating the side and saying we were lucky. Which is about as far from the truth as possible.

    Note to self – make the point of an article more obvious for skim readers in the future.

  6. incredible post. shame some people don’t hav de brains to understand it.

  7. Iv read the whole article and I got more angry all the way through!!!NO ur not slating the team but mate what was the point of this article. In any game you can write about the what ifs so seriously, what was your point???? A REALLY DUMB arguement. What do you gain from considering the above? Someone commented “If my aunty had bollocks, she would be my uncle” SPOT ON!

    • Ok, I’ll try again, because clearly the point isn’t clear enough.

      My point is this – at some point between now and the end of the season, we will have a match where things go badly against us. That in itself is not a disaster, but what would be is if we allowed it to destroy the current belief in the squad, and by extension the current belief OF the squad.

      Football is based on fine lines, and one match doesn’t adequately reflect that.

      You’ve actually made that exact point by saying you could do this for every match – you can, that’s exactly the point.

      BUT, people don’t do it when we lose. Instead, they tear the team to shreds, which is counterproductive in the extreme.


  8. Totally agree mate. And what’s ridiculous is that despite us beating Barcaloana; the media is wanking about how wonderful Barca were. I saw the game again and in addition to a period after 20 mins in the first half where they looked ominous; both teams were playing equally good with changes being created on both sides! The commentators were having an orgy even when they were making pretty triangles in their own half; whilst when we do it, they call us impotent and playing tippy tappy football. These hypocrites!

  9. There’s much truth here. I did read the whole article. I’m in hope that we got a lot of the play where things weren’t clicking whilst gaining 1 point vs Newcastle. Also, however, I believe that much of the time when things could go either way, they are generally swayed the way of the confident team. Chance is chance. But confidence reduces the amount left to chance. The more belief and confidence a team has the less chance will play against them. You may say that’s not what happened to Barca, but there’s also a fine line between brimming with confidence and arrogance.

    It’s a moot point, but I just want to point out how good RvP is here.

    “Van Persie bearing the brunt when his ridiculous effort from the tightest of angles was easily fielded by Valdes, covering his near post well.”

    RvP looked up three times before striking it past Valdes. He intended on playing across to Bendtner originally, I’m sure of that. Valdes was sure of it to, and he gave this away as he readied his body for the cross. RvP changed his direction in an instant. He never would have tried this if Valdes hadn’t left him the room to do so.

    • Completely agree, particularly with the Van Persie goal, which was the combination of three things:

      1) Enough vision to recognise where Valdes was, and that he wasn’t set
      2) The confidence to try such an audacious effort, which comes from his current confidence level
      3) The ability to pull it off

      Point 2 is the important one – players get so much belief from the fans, which why it is so vital we back the team as we did on Wednesday night. Which is the point you’ve correctly read, and so many have missed.

  10. I thought it was an excellent post as well and made some good point. A lot of our fans just support on a game by game basis. When we win: we are the best. When we lose: we are crap. It’s quite ridiculous really.
    There was nothing wrong with the article. I’ll take you through those stupid people’s thought process’s as they read

    “Arsenal’s Champions League dreams were in tatters last night after Barcelona ruthlessly tore them apart in a display worthy of the best team in generations.”
    *scratches head”
    “I thought we won” *scratches head again*
    “we did win! This must be written by a spurs supporter so I’m not going to read the rest”

    It’s quite shocking really

    • ‘Game by game’ is exactly the way too many support – maybe that’s the instant gratification world we live in, or perhaps it is a product of the media, whose dramatic headlines would be far less effusive or antagonistic if they looked at the bigger picture.

      In the media world, you are either the best or the worst, and that seems to have reflected onto everyone else.

  11. Mate, I’ve never visited your blog before but after reading that articles, you bet your a** I will. What a fantastic post, wish more idiots out there got it.

    That’s the problem with Arsenal. It’s dominated with fans who are actually plain imbeciles. All they see is “oh they play good football, so ill support them, but sell him and him, and buy so and so, and we’ll be the best team in the world and win trophies, then I’ll really support them”. These morons don’t have a clue as to what’s involved in football. If only it was as easy as the game that these idiots play, called football manager.

    This articles highlights the subtleties that most don’t realise in football, and kudos to the author who made a brilliant attempt at doing that. Shame the world is mostly populated by fools.

    In Arsene We Trust

    • Thank you, glad to have another reader!

      I hope that the instant gratification fans are not exclusive to Arsenal, but sometimes I feel we have more than most. I would at least hope Chelsea and City have gained some over recent years.

      Half the trouble is that the press promote buying at the only route to success, and that is borne out of big transfer stories selling papers better than long term stories, that are only interesting on reflection.

      The press write what sell stories, not necessarily what is the whole truth, and that is taken as raw fact by many.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad we do things differently.

  12. The whole point of this article is that sometimes things go wrong and sometimes they go right. Remember the recent 4-4 draw with Newcastle United? That might have been a win right? Well it was a draw but the point is that it ended in a draw and yet it might have been one of the most massive wins in the history of Arsenal and the Premier League. had it ended in a win, we would now have been two points adrift but conversely, had Manchester United won on that night, we probably might have been 7 points adrift today and we might have started to forget about the EPL. Lessons need to be learnt from these incidents instead of just being critical about what another Gooner fan has written.

    • Thank you, and spot on.

      Looking back, I think I structured this post wrongly – too long before I got too my point, which some have missed worse than Cashley’s penalty.

      I know you and your blog will always been good for the rational angle.

  13. I understand what you are getting at, but this is ridiculous. Pointing out a very obvious thing. basically get the luck and play well, you win your fans are positive. luck is against you and you could be playing good or bad you can lose, fans are negative.

    happens every week mate all over the world.

    • Maybe, but our players are notoriously responsive to confidence, and runs are built on them. The point is that many will write off the side when we next lose, like them would have had we lost midweek, which could have happened.

      I am simply asking for perspective with what is to come.

  14. @Goonerholic

    I sincerely hope and in fact believe that we aren’t that complacent to completely ignore our downfalls caused by our mistake, such as Newcastle like you have just pointed out. However, you sound like you are making a point that we never learn from mistakes. Do you genuinely believe arsene and the players just ignore those mistakes? I certainly think not.

    Conversely, I think it’s fair to say that we do need more fans to actually support the team through thick and thin. Take that Newcastle game for example. Don’t know if you noticed, but some of their fans left before halftime. Many however, stayed behind and continued to support their team, even when things looked bleak. If it were not for them, and their fantastic support that the showed, rallying their team, do you think Newcastle would have come back? (of course, also with the help of a ref who’s a united fan). Now the arsenal fans that I’m referring to are no different to those newcastle ones that left the game early.

    I hope you understand the point I’m trying to make.

  15. The point of this article is obviously lost on a few ignorant supporters. I agree with you Pete, but the fine lines that you talk about must be kept to a minimum in terms of chances for the other team. The less of these that you allow to occur, then chances are you won’t get many going against you. You make your own luck and all that.

    Anyway here’s to a convincing win later today. Cheers.

    • Absolutely – you can create your own luck to an extent – it is incredible how many times the luck seems to go with the team on form, hence the ‘nothing goes right for you at the bottom’ line.

      A lot of the time, if you feel you’re about to collapse, you will. Which is exactly why our fans turning on players is so counterproductive.

  16. as i started reading it i waswondering whatwere u getting to..bt as soon as i got to the second paragraph i caught your drift…its an execellent post by any means and a really well thought one at that too.. it is true that suchevents may happen but i hope not lol. getting behind the team like how it was at the emirates is what we as fans need to do.. i am from malaysia and i have never been to the emirates or highbury.. but i have been a supporter of The Arsenal since 1996 a good 15 years to it. have seen the ups and all the downs during this course. seen many generations of players too.. oh to be a gooner! if the prof says we’re running for the quadruple this year then u bet my ass i’ll be cheering for the team allthe way from malaysia!!! the team needs the 12th man be it at home or away. it always makes the difference.. by the way great post once again dude. theres truth in every thing u said and i hope other fans realisethat too.. and to those who dont get it..my advice to read a couple of times to get the msg in it.. cheers mate and UP THE GUNNERS!

  17. Incredible post, but we have to try to be as consistent as possible and leave little room for the slip-ups!

    • Yep – not bad form though, despite the 4-4 collapse against Newcastle, that’s the only game we haven’t won of the last nine.

  18. Valid point.
    You could have written it in various ways including from the refs point of view.
    Song didn’t get a yellow for the first tackle. Alves got a yellow for nibbling at Nasris ankles so Nasri didn’t hack him in retaliation…
    As you say, there are so many variables that run on ‘coin toss’ incidents but mount up and effect the confidence etc.
    IMO the biggest variable is always the ref. Inconsistancy by him effects the whole teams attitude.

    Anyway, If you’re a supporter, Support!

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